Those agitating for the removal of Karnataka lokayukta Y Bhaskar Rao since May this year got their hopes up on Monday with governor Vajubhai Vala approving a crucial amendment bill which makes it easier to impeach the anti-corruption ombudsman.
However, all indications are that getting rid of Rao -- whose son is under arrest for running a multi-crore extortion racket inside the Lokayukta office -- will be neither swift nor painless. The newly amended Lokayukta Act makes it easy to suspend the lokayukta but sacking him requires a long and complicated procedure.
"It may be months before Bhaskar Rao is impeached," said senior Congress spokesperson and MLC VS Ugrappa, in a guarded reaction to the governor's assent to the Karnataka Lokayukta Amendment Bill. "The only way we can hasten the process is by repealing the Lokayukta Act altogether. That will make all the appointments made under the Act null and void," he said.
Despite Congress' skepticism, the BJP is planning to make most of what the new version of the Lokayukta Act provides. "It is true that the impeachment process can take months even under the the amended Act. But the amendment also makes it easier to get the lokayukta suspended," said a senior BJP legislator.
The BJP plans to wait until the first week of September for the ruling party to make a move. "To submit a complaint to the speaker and the chairman of the legislature, we need the support of one-third of the members in each House. If the ruling party doesn't make a move, we will seek the support of other opposition parties and independents," a senior BJP legislator told HT.
The old Lokayukta Act required the constitution of a three-member investigation committee headed by a Supreme Court judge with another high court judge as a member. And only if the committee found evidence of misconduct could any action be taken against the lokayukta.
Under the amended act, the lokayukta will be suspended automatically the moment the speaker of the Assembly and the chairman of the council forward a complaint against the lokayukta to the chief justice of Karnataka. To be forwarded, the complaint must be moved by at least one-third of members from both houses.
After receiving the complaint, chief justice of Karnataka will have initiate an investigation and submit a report in 90 days. Even if the CJ finds the lokayukta guilty, impeaching him will require the votes of two-thirds of members in the Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly. Finally, the governor will have to approve the impeachment passed by both houses for the lokayukta to be removed.
That the Special Investigation Team probing the extortion racket has not yet found any direct evidence against Rao is likely to further complicate matters. "Right now, our case is that Bhaskar Rao's son misused his father's office to extort money from government officials. We have no evidence to show that Rao knew about his son's activities," an SIT official told HT.