By Shankar Raj*
Bengaluru: In a major boost to the anti-corruption drive and a rap on the knuckles of the State government, a division bench of the Karnataka high court scrapped the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and opted for the strengthening of the institution of Lokayukta to fight corruption in the state.
The court reasoned out saying that the ACB has no meaning as the rules empowered the chief minister to either veto an investigation or sanction an inquiry, defeating the very purpose of any anti-corruption drive.
In short, it was more a political tool to protect those in power and keep the opposition under control.
Meaning business, the court on Thursday, August 11, 2022, transferred all investigations and pending inquiries conducted by ACB to the Lokayukta police.
The verdict has put the Basavaraj Bommai government in a bind ahead of the 2023 Assembly polls. The government has little elbow room and will have to implement the HC order because the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party itself had promised in its manifesto for the 2018 Assembly elections the abolition of the ACB and restore all powers to the Lokayukta.
But even after having been in power for three years, the party failed to fulfil its promise, thus earning public ridicule and ire.
“I have not yet received the judgment copy. The government will spell out its stand after discussing with the advocate-general and senior officers,’’ said Bommai.
The division bench comprising Justices B Veerappa and KS Hemalekha noted that ACB was established to “protect and scuttle” the probe against political class and bureaucrats. “The order constituting ACB as an authority for investigation under the Prevention of Corruption Act indirectly defeated the very purpose of the Karnataka Lokayukta Act,” the bench said.
“The ACB is not at all an independent body. The police force of ACB works under the authority of the chief minister and any independent investigation is only a mirage. No serving officers would be in a position to conduct an inquiry against the CM under whom they would be working as subordinates. Therefore, by the constitution of ACB, the basic investigation apparatus/mechanism is dysfunctional. The ACB is constituted to defeat the very purpose of the Prevention of Corruption Act itself. The state is bent upon saving its corrupt ministers and officers, and therefore, the impugned government order and the subsequent supporting notifications are contrary to the very object of the Karnataka Lokayukta Act,” the division bench said.
It was the Congress government headed by Siddaramaiah that had issued a notification constituting the ACB in 2016.
*Shankar Raj is former Editor of The New Indian Express, Karnataka and Kerala, and writes regularly on current affairs.