Karnataka HC bats for Lokayukta, abolishes state’s Anti-Corruption Bureau

Court orders all cases pending with the ACB to be handed over to the Lokayukta 

Karnataka HC

The Karnataka High Court has set aside a Government Order (GO) that had constituted an Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) as a parallel agency to the existing Karnataka Lokayukta. The court said that the said GO dilutes the independence of Lokayukta and defeats the very purpose for which the Karnataka Lokayukta was constituted.

Lokayuktas, at the state level, have the power to inquire into administrative actions, including cases of corruption, favouritism and official indiscipline in administrative machinery so that the standards of public administration can be improved. These are governed by the Karnataka Lokayukta Act, 1984.

Their independence is achieved by the appointment of those who are retired judges of the Hon’ble Supreme Court or retired Chief Justice of High Courts or a Judge of a High Court with not less than 10 years of experience for Lokayuktas and a person who has held the position of Judge of High Court for not less than 5 years for Upa Lokayuktas.

Although the appointment is to be done by the Chief Minister, it is to be done in consultation with the Opposition in both, the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly, as well as the Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court, the Speaker and the Chairman of the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council respectively.

Another parallel legislation regarding corruption is the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 which, under Section 17, grants powers to certain officers to investigate an offence without taking a warrant from the metropolitan magistrate; and grants the power to state government to authorise officers not below the rank of inspectors to have the said powers under Section 17.

In 1991, the Karnataka Government deputed some police officers to the Karnataka Lokayukta Department and authorised these police officers to investigate offences under Section 17. However, the Karnataka government, in 2016, passed an order revoking the powers to Lokayukta police that were granted under Section 17 and granting the same powers to a separate Anti-Corruption Bureau under the direct authority of the Chief Minister. A set of petitions were filed against this order and the court pronounced this judgement while deciding these petitions.

Arguments by the Petitioners

Petitioners argued that the Lokayukta was constituted so that there will exist an independent body which will investigate chief ministers and other government functionaries that usually run the system and therefore escape from its purview. If the ACB, which is directly under the Chief Minister is given the power under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988-that will only be an investigative agency in the hands of the chief minister rather than an independent one. Thus, the petitioners argued, the constitution of ACB by the state government laacks statutory force and should be set aside.

Arguments by the State

Apart from questioning the locus standi of the petitioners, the state argued that the 2016 order was to formalise the distribution of duties between Lokayukta and the police under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. It argued that the Lokayukta Police was never under the direct control of Lokayukta but was only lent by the State government to the Lokayukta for performance of functions and therefore there was no authority existing, that the 2016 order snatched away from Lokayukta.

Considerations of the Court

The Court has observed that there is no “careful application of mind” by the state government before passing the 2016 order except for following the recommendation of Director General and Inspector General of Police to constitute an ACB.

The court also observed that the ACB has not filed any complaints against any politicians and higher bureaucrats unlike the Lokayukta. The court stated that since ACB is under the direct control of the Chief Minister- it is unlikely that there will be an impartial investigation into any allegations against the chief minister and therefore, the ACB does not fare better than the Lokayukta.

“It is high time for the State Government to take necessary steps to ensure to reform the Lokayukta and to amend the provisions of the K.L. Act and abolish the ACB and the recommendation of the Lokayukta or Upa-Lokayukta should be binding on the Government,” observed the court.

While commenting on the comparison between ACB and Lokayukta, the court said, “The material on record clearly depicts after creation of ACB w.e.f 14.3.2016, ACB has not registered any criminal cases against the Ministers, MPs, MLAS or MLCs, but only registered few cases against some authorities and conducted raids. No material is produced by the Government or the ACB to prove that ACB is more powerful than Lokayukta for the purpose of improving the standards of public administration, by looking into complaints against administrative actions, including cases of corruption, favouritism and official indiscipline in administration machinery. Infact, creation of ACB is only to protect the vested interest and not 216 to protect the interest of the general public at large. It is high time for the State Government (any Government) or its authorities to act as a trustee of the society and infact, in all facets of public administration, every public servant has to exhibit honesty, integrity, sincerity and faithfulness in implementation of the political, social, economic and constitutional policies to integrate the nation, to achieve excellence and efficiency in the public administration.”

Finally, the court relied on the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s judgement in the case of C. Rangaswamaiah and others -vs Karnataka Lokayukta and others, in which the apex court stated that if officers that are allotted to Lokayukta Police are being recalled, the consent of Lokayukta needs to be taken. In this case, the 2016 order recalling the powers given to the Lokayukta officers was taken away without taking the consent of the Lokayukta.

The court thus quashed the order constituting the ACB and restored the powers that were previously there for the Lokayukta Police and stated that all pending proceedings under ACB will be transferred to Lokayukta.

The significance of this judgement is that the court has put its weight behind the independent body of Lokayukta against the state interference and reversed the state action. A great amount of importance has been given to the legislative purpose of the Lokayukta Act, 1988 by the judgement making it an important constituent of jurisprudence around executive action.

The complete order may be read here: 



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