The alleged extortion racket in the Karnataka Lokayukta, reportedly involving the Lokayukta Justice Bhaskar Rao’s son, has resulted in the state government introducing a new law that gives it more powers to remove a Lokayukta from office.
On Friday, the Congress government tabled in the assembly the Karnataka Lokayukta (Amendment) Bill, 2015 to amend the Karnataka Lokayukta Act of 1984. The Bill, set to be discussed next week, enables the state legislature to recommend removal of a Lokayukta through “a simple majority of the total membership” in both houses rather than the two-third majority mandated under the existing law.
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While the procedure for investigation and presentation of proof for removal of a Lokayukta is currently as per the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968, the new law proposes investigation, hearing and framing of charges within 90 days by the Chief Justice of Karnataka or a judge appointed by him. Based on the report of the Chief Justice of Karnataka, the Lokayukta can be removed by a simple majority of the two houses.
While only retired Supreme Court judges and retired Chief Justices of a high court are eligible for appointment as Lokayukta at present, the revised guidelines state that any retired high court judge who has served for over 10 years will also be eligible. The Bill also mandates submission of an annual report by the Lokayukta to the government by October 31 every year.
Following the controversy over alleged corruption in the Lokayukta, the state government has been under pressure to remove Justice Y Bhaskar Rao, a former chief justice of the Karnataka High Court, from the position of Lokyukta. While there have been calls for Rao’s ouster, the state government has claimed helplessness in removing the Lokayukta under the existing Lokayukta Act.
The Bill tabled today did not contain several controversial clauses that were present in a draft that the state government circulated on Thursday.
The draft bill had contemplated doing away with the grievance redressal powers of the Lokayukta, which is the mainstay of the institution. Clauses diluting the powers of the Lokayukta to prosecute public servants like ministers and MLAs were also dropped in the Bill.
The draft bill had appointed the state assembly as the competent authority to sanction prosecution of elected representatives like ministers and MLAs, instead of the Governor.
“Taking advantage of the present situation in the Lokayukta, the government and opposition parties are trying to weaken the Lokayukta. The clause to remove the Lokayukta by a simple majority is very dangerous. With this clause, the Lokayukta will always be at the mercy of the government,’’ said Lok Satta party leader C N Deepak.