A reprieve, for now

Published : Apr 20, 2012 00:00 IST

For former Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, whose political fortunes have nosedived, early March brought some relief. A Division Bench of the Karnataka High Court rejected a portion of the Karnataka Lokayukta report on illegal mining that accused him of corruption in the grant of mining leases in favour of two companies and invalidated the sanction given by Governor H.R. Bhardwaj to prosecute him on the basis of the report. It quashed the first information report registered by the investigation wing of the Lokayukta police.

In the court's view, Yeddyurappa was condemned unheard as the Lokayukta [Santosh Hegde] violated principles of natural justice by not issuing notice to him before making the accusation. The court maintained that Hegde erred in recommending initiation of criminal proceedings against Yeddyurappa without calling for an explanation from him as required under Section 9 (3) of the Karnataka Lokayukta Act, 1984.

Ruling that the Lokayukta had not produced any evidence to prove that Yeddyurappa had favoured any company in granting mining leases, the court said that the section of the report titled South West Mining Limited was outside the scope of the reference made to the ombudsman by the State government under Section 7 (2) of the Lokayukta Act when it asked for an inquiry into illegal mining. The section accused the Prerana Education Trust, owned by Yeddyurappa and his relatives, of receiving Rs.10 crore by way of donation and Rs.20 crore in land sale proceeds (an abnormally high rate) from two companies with interests in mining, possibly in return for a promise to create a favourable opinion in the Government of India for the grant of mining leases. Pointing out that Yeddyurappa was neither the Chief Minister nor the Minister for Mines when these companies received their leases, the court said that mere suspicion cannot be a ground to tarnish the image and reputation of a person holding a constitutional post.

The verdict, however, does not signal an end to Yeddyurappa's legal troubles. Though the Karnataka government has indicated that it does not plan to resort to any further action on the judgment, the Lokayukta will file a special leave petition in the Supreme Court challenging the decision. In the view of both Hegde and the newly appointed Upalokayukta, Justice Chandrashekaraiah, Section 7(2) (a) of the Lokayukta Act does not provide any opportunity to a person to be heard in an inquiry.

Also, the Supreme Court is still hearing a petition seeking an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the accusations made against Yeddyurappa in the Lokayukta report. Already seized of the matter, the court has sought the views of its Central Empowered Committee (CEC) on the issue. However, Yeddyurappa can draw comfort from the stand of the Karnataka government, which in February filed an affidavit before the CEC arguing that the allegations against Yeddyurappa did not warrant a CBI probe. The government's stand is that Yeddyurappa was neither the Chief Minister nor the Minister for Mines when the leases in question were granted to two companies. Seeking the dismissal of the petition, the affidavit states: The case made by the petitioner is incorrect and the inferences drawn are untenable. The facts mentioned by the petitioner have already been attended to and the Lokayukta court and other courts are already seized of the matter.

The State government is also delaying action on the basis of the report. Eight months have passed since the report was submitted, but the government has neither rejected it nor tabled it in the State legislature though two legislative sessions have been held since. The government has also to submit an action taken report while tabling the report. All that it has done thus far is to refer the report back to the Lokayukta seeking reconsideration. The absence of a Lokayukta (the government is yet to appoint one) has also come in handy for the government since it is the Lokayukta who will have act on the report.

Chief Minister Sadananda Gowda has often remarked that there are differences within the party on how to proceed with the report and that nothing would be done to harm the interests of the party's leaders. He has also stated that the report has gone against the interests of the State, causing unemployment to nearly 1,50,000 people, affecting the supply of iron ore to key industries, and hitting the flow of revenues.

Ravi Sharma
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