Interview with N. Santosh Hegde, Lokayukta for Karnataka.
JUSTICE N. Santosh Hegde, a former Supreme Court judge, was appointed the Lokayukta (ombudsman) for Karnataka in 2006. In a report presented to the State's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in 2008, he exposed major irregularities in iron ore mining in Bellary district. Hegde feels if the Lokayukta institution is given some extra powers like prosecuting without sanction through very special courts, then it can deal with cases of corruption in six months' time. Excerpts from the interview he gave Frontline:Has corruption increased?
Certainly. It has increased very much. Not only the number of corrupt people but also in the quantum demanded has gone up.
What do you attribute this rise in corruption to?
I feel it is the greed of the people who are involved in these practices. Today, hundreds of crores of rupees has no value. Take, for example, the siphoning off of money in the conduct of the Commonwealth Games. It is about Rs.70,000 crore. Take the 2G spectrum scam, the figure cited is Rs.1,76,000 crore. The amount involved in the Bofors scam was only Rs.63 crore. When we compare these figures and look at the few years in which corruption has grown, I feel not only the opportunity but also the demand for corruption has risen. Obviously, the people who bribe also have the capacity to give that much money. Consequently, they will have to suck it out of somebody. And ultimately, the [adverse] effect is on the common man.
What is the relevance of the Lokayukta in such a situation?
Maybe without the Lokayukta the quantum [of corruption] might have been more because it would have been unhindered. Anti-corruption bodies have been there for several decades but they have not been a deterrent. If the Lokayukta is given some extra powers, like the power to prosecute without sanction through very special courts (I'm placing an emphasis on very' because the special courts that we have now take seven to eight years to deal with cases), then it can deal with cases of corruption in six months' time. The rate of corruption will come down immediately by about 35-40 per cent.Have you sought such prosecuting powers?
I have not made any demand because if such powers are given, it should be through an all-India enactment. Changes should be made to procedural law.
After you withdrew your resignation earlier this year, some of your powers were enhanced.Half of one. I had asked for many.What were your demands?
I wanted power suo motu to inquire, without any complaint, against higher officers and politicians. They [the Karnataka government] gave me the power only to act against the higher officers but not against politicians. Some of my other demands, such as doing away with sanctions, were also not met.Then why did you withdraw your resignation?
I was promised that my powers would be extended. The Chief Minister, in the presence of BJP president Nitin Gadkari and Law Minister Suresh Kumar, promised to meet my demands.Do you feel cheated in some way?
I feel let down. I will not use the word cheated. Some people asked me why I didn't resign again. I said it would look juvenile and people would lose faith in the kind of work I do.
When you resigned, there was a lot of public support for you. You are perceived to be the people's guardian. What do you have to say about this role? Are you living up to people's expectations?
I think I am going by the number of invitations I get to address students in schools and colleges and employees of information technology firms. I have addressed students of 187 schools and colleges on building a value-based society and on the true meaning of satisfaction and contentment. I receive invitations from almost all the Central government institutions during their annual Vigilance Week.
So, although your powers are curtailed your role is recognised by society.
Yes, I think I agree with that statement even if it sounds like self-praise. There is also the poorer class which admires my work and that is not because of our anti-corruption work. The object of this institution is to ensure good governance. Wherever people face bad governance or are denied justice, they come to us.
Moving on to a sore point, you were hurt by the actions of the government with regard to the illegal mining issue. Even after the publication of your report no action was taken against the illegal miners who operate freely within the government. In a way, they have openly challenged you. How do you feel about it?
It does not make me feel happy but I will not be cowed down. I must continue my fight. If I cannot reach them [the illegal mining barons], let me at least help those who are in trouble because of other issues. However, I am quite confident that we will reach them. I have got an inquiry going on. The last part of the report will be completed much before my retirement, and I'm sure we will be able to catch some big fish.
What are the salient points of the affidavit filed by the Janata Dal (Secular) with the Lokayukta on November 18?
It says the Chief Minister [B.S. Yeddyurappa] does not have the authority to denotify the lands and that he has not followed the rules. It also says the denotification was not done in good faith but with a corrupt intention, to help his kith and kin. That is their main concern. I have read the complaint and we have taken cognisance of the complaint. The judicial officer scrutinised the complaint on November 20 and I signed [approved] it today [November 23].
Now that the Chief Minister has ordered a judicial probe, can the Lokayukta still continue the investigation?
According to me, yes, because any pending matter, if it has to be transferred from one investigative agency to another under the Lokayukta Act, will need the prior concurrence of the Lokayukta.And this has not been taken?
No, I was not taken into confidence. No one discussed this issue with me. I came to know through the media.So you will continue with your investigation.
Yes, my investigation is going on the legal aspect of it. Prima facie I don't think they [the Chief Minister's family] could have done that. But I will continue the investigation.
What is the status of the investigation into the alleged involvement of Minister Katta Subramanya Naidu in a land scam?
That case is almost ready and they [the accused] will be charge-sheeted in a week or 10 days. The charge sheet was ready for filing a few days ago but we discovered some relevant evidence connected with the investigation. We will file a comprehensive charge sheet as far as this part is concerned.
So there is clear evidence to demonstrate his culpability?
As an investigative agency, my police are clear that there was wrongdoing. Not only rules under the Prevention of Corruption Act were flouted but also offences under the Indian Penal Code, such as forgery, threat and bodily harm, were committed.
At this stage can you comment on the allegations against the Chief Minister?
No, no. I have not seen the orders of the denotification. These need to be studied in detail before I can comment.
Do you think the Central government is doing enough to check corruption?
No, I do not think so. We have had a Prevention of Corruption Act since 1947. A special law is enacted only when a particular crime cannot be handled by a regular law. Obviously, corruption was recognised as a crime serious enough to merit a special law. But what happened in December 2008 when the government tried to denude this law of some of its important sections that were helpful to the investigating agencies? Corruption has become an all-India phenomenon and is all-pervasive. I am reminded of a judgment of the Allahabad High Court by Justice A.N. Mulla, who said, In a basket full of stinking fish, I can't pick one and say this one stinks when the whole lot stinks.