BANGALORE: The constitutional obligation of appointing a Lokayukta has become a bone of contention between Governor H R Bhardwaj and the BJP government in Karnataka. The post has been lying vacant ever since Justice Shivaraj Patil quit three months ago. Ironically, such a problem doesn’t exist with Upa-Lokayuktas: last week, Bhardwaj administered the oath to Justice Chandrashekharaiah as Upa Lokayukta. According to Karnataka Lokayukta Act of 1983, the Lokayukta has to be either a retired Supreme Court judge or a former High court justice. The Upa-Lokayukta can be any retired high court judge. The demarcation between the Lokayukta and Upa Lokayukta is clear; the former will take up the complaints against IAS, IPS and IFS officers, the latter will deal with KAS officers and the officers of the rank of deputy secretary and below.
The conflict began when the BJP government recommended former Karnataka High Court judge and former chief justice of Kerala High Court, Justice S R Bannurmath as the state Lokayukta in the last week of September 2011. Bhardwaj shot it down, stating that certain criminal elements are backing Bannurmath. Chief Minister D V Sadanananda Gowda and his ministers chose not to react. Neither did the BJP which is preoccupied with sorting out its internal squabbles. The question in political circles is did Bhardwaj have Yeddyurappa in his mind when he spoke about criminal elements pushing Bannurmath's name? Yeddyurappa had to resign as chief minister on the basis of Santosh Hegde’s report on illegal mining and Bharadwaj may feel Bannurmath—a fellow Lingayat—would help Yeddyurappa slip out of trouble. The history of public hostility between Yeddyurappa and Bharadwaj is well known.
Gowda is sticking to his guns by saying that there is no change in government’s stand and the governor will have to abide by the collective decision of the cabinet. Bharadwaj accuses the government of not being serious about getting a Lokayukta. “Let the government recommend any other name, I will clear it in 15 minutes, but not Bannurmath. It is not because that he (Bannurmath) suffers from the same infirmity as that of his predecessor but his name is being pushed in order to put the Lokayukta’s illegal mining report into cold storage,” said Bharadwaj. The governor claims the Supreme Court passed strictures against Justice Bannurmath in the Classic Computers Scam involving former chief minister S Bangararappa. The CM denies it.
The delay in the Lokayukta’s appointment may also be an unintended boon for External Affairs Minister S M Krishna facing a Lokayuykta Police probe on illegal mining when he was Karnataka CM from 1994 to 2000. The Supreme Court has stayed proceedings against him, terming the probe premature in the absence of an ombudsman.