At a time when the credibility of the Karnataka Lokayukta is waning in the state, fresh charges have rocked the independent anti-corruption body. According to a report in The Indian Expressthe Karnataka Lokayukta, which has an investigating arm of its own, has been accused of alleged links between the son of the incumbent Lokayukta, Justice Y Bhaskar Rao, and an extortion racket operating from inside the office of the anti-corruption watchdog.

Basically, the anti-graft body has someone who summoned officials and demanded protection money. The Indian Express report cited a case in which the demand was of Rs one crore.

The New Indian Express reported: “Upalokayukta Justice Subash B Adi, on Saturday sought a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into charges against an unidentified person in the Lokayukta, who claimed to be close to Lokayukta Justice Y Bhaskar Rao and allegedly sought Rs 1 crore from a state public works department engineer on April 21, after Rao on Friday unilaterally ordered the Crime Branch to investigate.”

Former Lokayukta Santosh Hegde. AgenciesFormer Lokayukta Santosh Hegde. Agencies

Former Lokayukta Santosh Hegde. Agencies

Even with charges so serious, no one wants to act against the anti-corruption body. Even the Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has ruled out a CBI probe into the bribery charges, saying that the state government did not have powers to do so against an independent anti-corruption body. “The state government has no powers to seek a CBI probe into a bribery charge in an independent institution like Lokayukta or against its ombudsman,” Siddaramaiah said.

So what happens to charges and the credibility of the ombudsman? Since the issue is now caught up in a set of technicalities, nothing. Justice Santosh Hegde has already voiced his fears. “Bribery charges within the institution will make people lose faith in it. It is better to shut it than allowing it to just raid officials and not others. Framing charges and conviction rate are far less than the number of graft cases booked.” In such a situation, who orders probe into the case or who orders a cleanup of the Lokayukta?

While setting up the Lokayukta of states, it was presumed that because the head is a judge or a former judge, the institution would be relatively corruption-free. And therefore, possibly, there was no inclination to have a system to find fault with the office on which people are supposed to repose faith.

Justice Hegde, a former Lokayukta of Karnataka, had a straight bat and followed it through with a willowy hand. Unfortunately, after the several public contretemps around Anna Hazare‘s anti-corruption campaign and later with AAP, his voice is not heard much but Justice Hegde probably is right in saying it “it better to shut it down” than “raid officials and not others”. He is pointing to a lacunae in the current setup.

The institution of Lokayukta, in its present avatars, is not perfect according to many — Anna Hazare, Aam Aadmi Party, Yogendra Yadav. Lokayukta, being a tool to investigate and punish officialdom, is not supposed to be corrupt. The mandate is to keep them clean and away from temptation. But unfortunately, in some states, they barely function and corruption cases have piled up. There are states which have not even given them proper infrastructure to function. Some have even stayed away from appointing the anti-graft ombudsman.

There also seems to be a deadlock between Lokayukta and the Upa-Lokayukta. According to the report in The Indian Express, the two bodies, which are supposed to work in tandem to clean up the officialdom of their greedy greasy fingers, the Lokayukta is reportedly getting into “arrangements” where it is holding people to ransom and asking them to “pay up.”

After the latest charges on the Lokayukta in Karnataka, a state known for tainted politicians and not-so-clean administrators, there could be a lot of media attention and if, eventually no one is able to bell the cat, the institution disrepute across the country.

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‘Shut down Karnataka Lokayukta’: After fresh corruption charges, anti-graft body comes under cloud