Illegal mining: Karnataka HC questions government’s silence on tribunal’s order

The High Court of Karnataka has questioned the conduct of the State government for not challenging orders passed by the Karnataka State Administrative Tribunal, which had quashed departmental inquiries entrusted to the Lokayukta against hundreds of officials allegedly involved in corruption, causing a loss of crores of rupees to the exchequer by allowing illegal mining.

“…though the State government had entrusted the matter to the Lokayukta to conduct an inquiry, the government is disinterested in challenging the order of the tribunal… The reason for not challenging the order passed by the tribunal appears to be pressure from the officers involved in the case,” the court said.

“The present case reflects a very sorry state of affairs. A matter which was referred by the State government for investigation under Section 7(2-A) of the Karnataka Lokayukta Act of 1984 in the year 2007 has not yet attained finality on account of litigation,” it observed.

A Division Bench comprising Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Nataraj Rangaswamy delivered the verdict while allowing the petitions filed by the Lokayukta challenging the tribunal’s orders passed in 2017-18. The Lokayukta had moved the High Court against the tribunal’s orders as the government did not do so.

The Bench noted that the 2011 report of the then Lokayuktha on illegal mining activities contained a separate chapter on the “collapse of administrative and governance system”, pointing to mafia-type operations in illegal mining and transportation of mined ore in connivance with officials of various departments. The Lokayukta report had named 617 officials.

After analysing the report through a committee of senior IAS officers, the government in 2013 entrusted to the Lokayukta and the Upa Lokayukta the conduct of departmental inquiries against those officials under the provisions of the Karnataka Civil Services (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules, 1957, the Bench said.

Following this, the Lokayukta nominated two Additional Registrars as Inquiry Officers and they commenced the proceedings by issuing charge-sheet, as per the KCS Rules, to the delinquent officers.

However, Prakash T.V., an Assistant Commissioner, and other officers moved the tribunal challenging the Government Order of 2013 entrusting disciplinary inquiry to the Lokayukta and the charge-sheet issued by the inquiry officers in 2015.

The tribunal quashed the inquiry proceedings against them while holding that the Lokayukta had not provided an opportunity of hearing to the officials before submitting the preliminary inquiry of 2011.

‘Erred in law and facts’

However, the Bench held that the tribunal had “erred both in law and in fact” as the Lokayukta’s 2011 report was a fact-finding one and the question of granting an opportunity of hearing by issuing notice to the officials did not arise before submitting such report.

The right of opportunity of hearing is available to the delinquent officials only during departmental enquiry proceedings, the Bench said.

Pointing out that no action was taken against the 617 officials for the past 10 years, the Bench requested the Lokayukta to complete the departmental inquiry within a year without granting adjournment. In case a need arises for adjournment, the inquiry officers must record reason for it.

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