High Court observations on Lokayukta police reignite debate on ACB

Investigation powers of Lokayukta police were taken away when Anti-Corruption Bureau was formed

The recent observations of the High Court of Karnataka regarding lapses on the part of the Lokayukta police in investigating an old case against Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa has reignited the debate on the formation of the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), which is argued to have resulted in the weakening the Karnataka Lokayukta.

The erstwhile Congress government formed the ACB, taking away the Lokayukta police’s powers to take up suo motu cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, in 2016. Though the Lokayukta police was independent of the judicial wing of the Karnataka Lokayukta, it was the police wing that gave teeth to the organisation and has since then been a pale shadow of its former self. The ACB reports to the State government.

Promise not kept

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had opposed the formation of the ACB and had promised in its 2018 election manifesto that it would abolish the bureau and strengthen the Karnataka Lokayukta. The Congress had also promised to restore the Lokayukta with powers to take up suo motu cases. However, neither has made any moves towards implementing it while in power.

There are multiple public interest litigation (PIL) petitions pending before the High Court challenging the formation of the ACB. “The Karnataka Lokayukta has also filed an affidavit before the court arguing that the formation of the ACB is not sustainable under law. The case has come to the stage of final arguments. We have filed an application seeking listing of the case at the earliest as the case has not come up for hearing since the lockdown,” said Lokayukta P. Vishwanatha Shetty, refusing to comment on the particulars of the case. Another petitioner before the High Court, social activist S.R. Hiremath, hoped the court would get to the root of the problem and strengthen the Lokayukta by abolishing the ACB.

‘All guilty’

Pruthvi Reddy, State convener, Aam Aadmi Party, said restoring investigation powers to the Lokayukta police and ensuring they are independent and are provided with ample resources are the need of the hour, but there is little hope of it happening. “The denotification case involving the Chief Minister, now ordered to be probed, is a case in point. It has Mr. Yediyurappa from the BJP and R.V. Deshpande from the Congress as accused and the denotification dates back to when H.D. Kumaraswamy of the JD(S) was the Chief Minister, indicating all three major parties were hand in glove when it comes to corruption. We have no hope of anybody strengthening the anti-corruption watchdog, unless we change the political culture of the State,” he said.

Another anti-corruption activist Ravi Krishna Reddy of the Karnataka Rashtra Samiti said contrary to the political rhetoric by the BJP, the party’s governments at the Centre and the State had done little to strengthen the anti-corruption watchdog.

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