Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa’s image-saving attempt to constitute a probe commission on land allotment irregularities snowballed into a controversy with state’s Lok Ayukta describing it as ‘violation of rules’ and opposition parties questioning suitability of the retired judge heading the inquiry.
Lok Ayukta Justice Santosh Hegde, who has been probing charges leveled against Yeddyurappa in a complaint by JD(S) leaders, questioned the government’s move in forming the commission before taking a prior consent from him.
JD(S) questioned the suitability of probe commission head Justice B Padmaraja, a retired High court judge, alleging that he received a plot from a society, which was accused of irregularities and the case was being heard by the court of law.
In a letter to the chief secretary, Justice Hegde said, “I am investigating a few cases of land scams filed against the chief minister. At this juncture a judicial probe has been announced without my consent, violating the Karnataka Lok Ayukta Act of 1984."
“The Act has a provision that the government can order a probe into any issue before Lok Ayukta only after taking his consent. They did not have any courtesy to consult me (before launching a parallel probe),” he said.
Higher Education Minister V S Acharya claimed that the commission was formed under the Central Commission of Inquiry Act, which supersedes state legislations.
Dismissing the notion, Justice Hegde said he would continue his investigation into the complaints received by him regarding land allotment through Karnataka Industrial Area Development Board (KIADB). “I am investigating cases against 14 state ministers..., have received seven complaints against the chief minister since I took over,” he said.
He asked the government to wind up the Lok Ayukta “if it had lost faith in it”.
The controversy blew up when government on Friday asked Justice Hegde to give a status report on the cases referred to him in the past – from allegations of illegal mining to awarding public private participation projects.
As the stalemate between the government and Lok Ayukta refused to end, JD(S) President H D Kumaraswamy questioned the commission saying that Justice Padmaraja had received a plot from Karnataka State Judicial Department Employees House Building Cooperative Society. Several High Court judges were its members.
A committee of Karnataka Assembly had probed land acquisitions by the society in 2007 and had concluded that the society had “become the leading law-breaker without the least fear or care of law, propriety or public interest”.
Three former judges of the high court - Justices K. Jagannath Shetty, G.P. Shivaprakash, M.P. Chinnappa - had filed a case against the society, alleging various illegalities in its membership, site allotment to kin of office bearers and selling sites meant for park and other common amenities.
The case was still being heard by the High Court.