India's battle against corruption and for accountability from its huge bureaucracy is set to get a boost as the Karnataka government prepares to punish over 600 officials, a record for the country, over illegal mining.
Among those facing suspension and other disciplinary actions are three officers of the highly-prized Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and four from the Indian Forest Service (IFS), official sources told IANS on Thursday.
The Karnataka cabinet is meeting on Friday to act on the recommendation of an official panel it set up to study the findings of the Lokayukta (ombudsman) on the complicity of these officials in the massive illegal iron ore mining in the state.
The then Lokayukta, N Santosh Hegde, submitted his report July 27 and the government has to accept or reject it within three months. Hegde's term ended on August 2.
The state government informed the Lokayukta on Wednesday that its official panel has finalised a plan of action on the illegal mining report and it will be considered by the Cabinet on Friday.
Hegde had recommended action against 787 officials, but the official panel headed by additional chief secretary K Jairaj has pruned the list to 617 officials, the sources said.
The officials belong to various state departments such as mining, forest, revenue and transport.
This will perhaps be the first time in India that such a large number of officials will face disciplinary action for a single crime - of abetting/facilitating massive illegal iron ore mining that is estimated to have cost the state treasury billions of rupees in revenue.
The action will come against the backdrop of heightening war of words between the central government and civil society groups over enactment of tougher laws and setting up massively empowered institution to curb growing corruption in the country.
The proposed action against officials will also compliment the judiciary's active scrutiny of actions of politicians in power.
The judiciary's intervention has led to jailing of former telecom minister A Raja in the telecom scandal and former Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa in cases of corruption and illegal land deals.
The punishment to Karnataka officials will be a booster also for the institution of Lokayukta as this will be the first time that action against a huge number will be taken based on the ombudsman's findings.
Karnataka is the first state in India to set up the Lokayukta way back in 1986. Many states in India still have not established the anti-corruption ombudsman.
Hegde's report led to the fall of the first Bharatiya Janata Party government headed by Yeddyurappa as his trial was recommended for corruption in the scam. He resigned on July 31 and the new government headed by DV Sadananda Gowda took office on August 4.
The illegal mining scandal has rocked Karnataka since 2006 when HD Kumaraswamy of the Janata Dal-Secular headed the coalition government with the BJP.
Mining baron and former BJP minister Gali Janardhana Reddy, now in Hyderabad jail for illegal mining in Andhra Pradesh, accused Kumaraswamy of taking Rs150 crore bribe to allow illegal mining.
Kumaraswamy referred the allegations against him to Hegde, the then ombudsman.
The scope of Hegde's probe was enlarged after Yeddyurappa became chief minister in May 2008.
Hegde estimated in his report that Karnataka has suffered a loss of over Rs16,000 crore because of illegal mining.
Besides recommending trial of Yeddyurappa and action against over 700 officials, Hegde had said Reddy, his elder brother G Karunakara and their associate B Sriramulu be dropped from the Yeddyurappa cabinet.
All three lost ministership when Yeddyurappa himself quit on July 31.
Reddy was arrested on September 5 by the Central Bureau of Investigation in connection with illegal mining in Andhra Pradesh and is now in Hyderabad's Chanchalaguda jail.
Yeddyurappa is also in jail in Bangalore but in connection with other corruption cases against him, mainly relating to land deals.