The state of affairs in the Karnataka Lokayukta for the past four years suggest a larger crisis of governance in India
Can the crisis-ridden Karnataka Lokayukta be back on its rails and regain the confidence of the people? This question is being asked as the hunt has begun for a new Lokayukta to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of tainted Justice Y Bhaskar Rao whose tenure has seen the reputation of the anti-corruption agency at its worst.
Institutions after all are constituted by individuals and institutional capacity is the collective capacity of the people who run the institutions. So, with a new judge taking over the reins of the ombudsman things could be different and better. There is no need to write a hasty obituary of the Karnataka Lokayukta yet as several people have been doing ever since latest cases of corruption within the institution came to light. But, several questions remain.
The first and the foremost task of the new incumbent will be to address the potential for corruption within the Lokayukta as much as tackling corruption in the government machinery. The events leading to Justice Bhaskar Rao’s resignation have exposed several infirmities of the institution. The most important of which is that the judicial wing of the institution has no control over the police wing which is most susceptible to corruption.
This will remain a weak spot as long as the current practice of deputing the police personnel from the police department to the Lokayukta continues. Surveys after surveys have revealed that the police department is the most corrupt among all the government agencies. When it is a Herculean task to find even a handful of honest policemen and women, to assume that the huge contingent of them deputed to the Lokayukta to be above board is simply and highly unrealistic. This is not a problem that the new Lokayukta can address. The only solution is to have an independent cadre of police for the Lok Ayukta. But will the government create it? Quite unlikely.
Second, the recent amendment to the Lokayukta Act that relaxed the procedure for the removal of the Lok Ayukta and the Upa Lokayukta have already been proved inimical to the interests of the institution. The law was changed in view of the difficulties the government faced in removing Justice Bhaskar Rao after his son was caught fleecing government officers. However, immediately after the relaxation of the procedure, a group of ruling party members in the legislature initiated the process of removing the Upa Lokayukta Subhash Adi for no known convincing reason. There is an element of mystery around the move of the MLAs and even the Speaker of the Assembly has expressed his reservations about this. The message is loud and clear. Now, it is very difficult for the Lok Ayukta or the Upa Lokayukta to do anything which would make the ruling party uncomfortable.
Third, the state of affairs in the Karnataka Lokayukta for the past four years also suggest a larger crisis of governance in India. Since the retirement of Justice Santhosh Hegde it has not been possible for the government to find a suitable successor. Justice Patil who succeeded Justice Hegde had to resign within months after he was found to be possessing residential sites in violation of the rules. Another selection was stuck down by the governor on similar charges, and finally Justice Rao exited after bringing unprecedented ignominy to the institution.
According to the Karnataka Lokayukta Act, only a former judge of the Supreme Court or a former Chief Justice of a High Court is eligible for the post but strangely it has not been easy to find a candidate who is absolutely above board even in this small elite group, which is supposed to be ethical standard bearers of society. If the Lok Ayukta has remained headless because the retired judges have reasons to hide their face, then the very idea of an anti-corruption agency begins to lose its meaning.