As political interventions go, the timing could not have been more suspect.
Less than half an hour before Karnataka’s BJP began a crucial meeting to decide if B S Yeddyurappa’s candidate would succeed him, governor H R Bhardawaj announced he was accepting the lokayukta report accusing the powerful former chief minister of corruption and had recommended his prosecution.
This means the lokayukta’s police wing can go ahead and file criminal cases against Yeddyurappa under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The sanction for prosecution also came a couple of hours before the new lokayukta, former Supreme Court justice Shivraj Patil, was sworn into office by the governor.
The lokayukta report, submitted to the governor and the government on July 27, said Yeddurappa, two sons and son-in-law took bribes from one of India’s largest steel companies, JSW Steel, which donated Rs 10 crore to trust managed by family and paid Rs 20 crore to them for a plot of land worth Rs 1.25 crore.
The governor’s sanction for prosecution will not be easy to carry out because Yeddyurappa’s successor, D V Sadananda Gowda, is a close associate of the former chief minister.
“Our investigators (who wrote the 25,2228-page report) have already been threatened,” noted a lokayukta officer on condition of anonymity. “We have to see how we will be able to act with the administration firmly against us and Yeddyurappa’s man as chief minister.”
The lokayukta police are drawn from the state police for fixed tenures. Eventually, they must return to the state police.
While the government has not taken any decision on the recommendation of former lokayukta justice Santosh Hegde, who retired on Tuesday, to prosecute 787 officials and politicians on various charges, including bribery and fraud, the sanction to act against Yeddyurappa could only come from the governor.
The Lokayukta Act, 1984, clearly defines “public servants” covered under the Act. That includes the “chief minister and all other ministers and members of the state legislature”.
The lokayukta can investigate but cannot prosecute them without sanction. The chief minister must sanction prosecution of officers.
In case of the chief minister or a member of the legislative assembly, that prerogative, the Act reads, the “competent authority”, is “the governor acting in his discretion”.