SUCH ALONG SEARCH
Government recommends ex-judge for lokayukta’s post. But he may run into the same hurdle as his predecessor.
After looking high and low for a “clean” judge, the BJP government in Karnataka has suggested the name of former Kerala High Court chief justice S.R. Bannurmath for the high-profile post of lokayukta. The recommendation, jailed former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa’s choice, has raised eyebrows because Justice Bannurmath has the same problem as the former lokayukta, Justice Shivaraj Patil, who had to resign hurriedly under a cloud.
Justice Patil, who held the post for not even a month, had to quit after a media expose that he had more than one plot in Bangalore city, violating the state’s housing society by-laws. In addition, he has a plot in the Judicial Employees Cooperative Housing Society ( JECHS), meant for employees, not judges. All allotments in JECHS were slammed in a Legislative House Committee report and are the subject of a PIL in Supreme Court. The apex court has not given any decision yet.
With the new anti-corruption wind sweeping across the country, Justice Patil’s deputy, upalokayukta R. Gururajan voluntarily quit on October 12, as his assets, already in the public domain on the lokayukta website, showed him owning a plot in JECHS besides other property in Bangalore.
Law Minister S. Suresh Kumar, admitting a mistake in appointing Justice Patil without due diligence, told INDIA TODAY days prior to the announcement of Justice Bannurmath’s name: “We have to find a suitable and capable judge who will uphold the image of the post of the lokayukta. We will look closely at the judge’s image, stature and credibility before we make any appointments this time.’’
Political expediency seems to have overruled this stand. Justice Bannurmath is Yeddyurappa’s nominee, and that seems to have been the overriding factor, despite the judge, in his assets declaration, stating that he holds two properties in Dharwad town, including one where a religious math belonging to Yeddyurappa’s community, Lingayats, is run. The clincher that should have made him ineligible is that he also owns a house in the dubious JECHS.
Governor H.R. Bhardwaj is expected to take a call on the recommendation after November 1. He had indicated earlier that the post should be filled by a former Supreme Court judge, like former lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde, whose records show complete personal integrity.
The post of the lokayukta, the state’s version of the lokpal, has been vacant now for over a month. Several judges from outside the state were reluctant to take up the post, as highprofile political cases, including bribery cases against Yeddyurappa, are before the lokayukta court. Chief Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda and his Cabinet have now given in to pressure from Yeddyurappa to recommend a judge of his choice.
A senior Karnataka minister, commenting on the search and its final outcome, remarked: “See how odd the situation is. We can’t even find a clean judge for the lokayukta post. But we, the politicians, are expected to be corruption free.’’
Former minister P.G.R. Sindhia, who was part of the Ramakrishna Hegde council of ministers that cleared and passed the Karnataka Lokayukta Act in 1984, has a more moderate view. “It is a peculiar situation which the state never envisaged when Karnataka passed the Lokayukta Bill. It is very unfortunate that so many of these judges are under a cloud,’’ he told INDIA TODAY.
The Karnataka Lokayukta Act (1984) was a landmark legislation that brought the post of chief minister under lokayukta purview, without any of the discussion of the kind is taking place over bringing the Prime Minister’s post under the lokpal. “Even then, Hegde brought a judge, Justice A.D. Koshal from Punjab, from outside to be the first lokayukta,’’ recalls a political analyst.
Karnataka’s attorney general had earlier been asked to draw up a list of all former Supreme Court and high court chief justices from across the country in the hope of finding one who might take up the job.
EX-KARNATAKALOKAYUKTASHIVARAJ PATIL (RIGHT) WITH EX-UPALOKAYUKTAR. GURURAJAN