A division bench of Karnataka High Court on Thursday ordered abolishing the state government-controlled Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) police and revival of an anti-corruption police unit attached to the quasi-judicial institution Karnataka Lokayukta, which works independent of the state.
The bench of Justices B Veerappa and K S Hemalekha issued the order in the course of its judgment in a series of petitions filed against the creation of ACB, following allegations of deep corruption in Lokayukta.
The HC order quashed a notification issued by the then Congress government in the state on March 14, 2016, to create the ACB and also subsequent notifications transferring power to probe corruption cases under Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, from Karnataka Lokayukta police to the ACB.
The HC said that “the Anti Corruption Bureau is abolished” with this order.
“All inquiries, investigations and other disciplinary proceedings pending before ACB will get transferred to the Lokayukta. However, all inquiries, investigations, disciplinary proceedings, orders of convictions/acquittals and all other proceedings held by ACB till today are hereby saved and the Police Wing of Karnataka Lokayukta shall proceed from the stage at which they are pending as on today, in accordance with law,” the bench ruled.
The court said it is “high time” the state government strengthened the institution of Lokayukta and Upa-Lokayukta and got back their “glory”. It observed that the institution of Lokayukta has been reduced to being “paper tigers” by the March 14, 2016 executive order to transfer police powers to ACB.
The order for abolishing the ACB relates to cases filed in 2016 by the Advocates Association of Bengaluru, the Samaj Parivartana Samudaya, and advocate Chidananda Urs over Lokayukta powers being given to ACB.
The HC stated that “there was no necessity for the State Government to constitute ACB parallel to the institution of Lokayukta, that too when a person to be appointed as Lokayukta shall be a person who has held the office of a Judge of Supreme Court, or that of the Chief Justice of a High Court, or a person who has held the office of a Judge of a High Court for not less than ten years; and a person to be appointed a Upa-Lokayukta shall be a person who has held the office of a Judge of a High Court for not less than five years.”
The court said, “The Government Order constituting the ACB is unsustainable, suffers from mala fides and legal infirmities.”
“The impugned executive order passed by the State Government has indirectly diluted the powers of Lokayukta, and the ACB cannot function either as a parallel body or an alternate body or substitute the Lokayukta. Therefore, the Government Order constituting the ACB for a function already being conferred on the Lokayukta is impermissible in law,” the HC said.
“On careful perusal of the impugned executive Government Order, it also clearly depicts that the ‘Hon’ble Chief Minister is the supreme’ and there is no independent application of mind by the State Government before passing the impugned executive order,” the court said. The order, it said, is based “only on the recommendation made by the DG & IG, thereby the executive order passed by the State Government cannot be sustained.”
The HC acknowledged that Lokayukta had become a powerful institution and was plagued by internal corruption but observed that the solution to the problem was in cleaning the institution and not withdrawing its powers to probe.