Siddaramaiah and DK Shivakumar Collage

Karnataka: Siddaramaiah govt's probes into BJP era scams might hit dead end

  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram
  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram
  • Whatsapp
  • Telegram

The grisly murder of Jain monk Acharya Kamkumar Nandi Maharaj in Belagavi is disrupting proceedings in both Houses of the Karnataka Legislature. The Opposition is clamouring for a CBI probe into the murder but home minister G Parameshwar turned down their demand saying the Karnataka state police is capable of doing the job.

The Congress government in Karnataka, however, is all set to order a probe into the alleged scams during the BJP regime, which includes the 40 per cent commission scandal in public works and irrigation projects.

The government has also promised to probe the Bitcoin scam, the deaths of COVID-19 patients due to the non-availability of oxygen in Chamarajanagar, and has even ordered a senior police officer to investigate the suicide attempt of KSRTC driver-cum-conductor, who was allegedly depressed over a transfer.

But taking into account the past record of the outcomes of probes ordered by successive  governments in the state, the fate of such inquiries hangs in the balance.

‘Convenient tool’

“Ordering probes has proved to be the most convenient tool used by the Centre and State governments to wriggle out of a sticky political situation, when confronted by charges of corruption and failure to take steps to prevent violence, disaster and other issues of public importance. This is precisely why people have become disillusioned about probes,” rued veteran politician and former minister of law and parliamentary affairs, M C Nanaiah.

Former MLC Kondajji Mohan agreed. “Political parties in power order a probe to silence both the public and Opposition parties. Later, they conveniently forget issues and incidents that affected the society at large,” he added.

Also read: Jain monk’s grisly murder has Karnataka politics on the boil

Political commentator Chandrakantha Vaddu too felt that there seems to be no “logical conclusion” to these probes. He said, “I don’t know whether it is possible for the Congress government to probe all the irregularities committed by the previous BJP government and offer a logical conclusion by bringing culprits to book based on the inquiry reports.”

Eight probes in 45 days

The BJP government was no different. After coming to power in 2019, it  had ordered eight probes in just 45 days from July 26 to September 8. This included the case pertaining to the murder of Yogesh Gowda – a zilla panchayat member in Dharwad district.

The case was handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The BJP government ordered these probes at a time when the people were hugely affected by the floods in Karnataka.

The then chief minister BS Yediyurappa also ordered investigation into alleged scams in initiatives undertaken by the Congress and JD(S) government, which included the Nagarotthana programme, which involved the white-topping of Bengaluru city roads.

There were also allegations of the inflated claims made by Indira canteen contractors, unnecessary expenditure on solid waste management and irregularities in implementing Krishi Honda (farm ponds). He directed the then chief secretary T M Vijaya Bhaskar to investigate and submit the report in two months. But, till today, the results of these inquiry reports remain a mystery.

probes, Karnataka, Congress government

Probe into NICE project

The Congress government too in its previous term (2013-2018) had constituted legislative committees and ordered judicial probes into various irregularities allegedly committed by the BJP government during its tenure from 2009 to April 2013. Probes were ordered then, into issues such as the Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprises (NICE) land deal, the alleged corruption in power purchase, illegal mining in three districts of the state, and illegal encroachment of lake beds.

But, for some reason, the Siddaramaiah government failed to act on the reports of the judicial probe or legislative committees back then. “We are not confident that our ruling Congress government will reopen the case and table those committee reports and initiate action against the guilty,” confessed a senior Congress leader, who spoke to The Federal on condition of anonymity.

Also read: Karnataka Budget highlights strains from BJP govt failures, Central aid shortcomings

Judicial probe: Arkavathi de-notification

When the Opposition BJP tried to corner Siddaramaiah in the Arkavathi denotification case, the latter stumped the Opposition by ordering a judicial probe in 2014 into alleged irregularities in the denotification of land in Arkavathi from 2003. Retired judge H S Kempanna had probed the issue.

Hundreds of officials struggled to examine the documents to get to the truth, which cost the exchequer heavily. But successive governments seem to have failed to table any of these probe reports in the Karnataka Assembly. Even if a few reports were presented, they were not discussed.

“The practice of ordering probes and remaining silent on receiving the reports is nothing but political drama. It is a sign of eroding the sanctity of the legislature. Nothing is coming out of the probe ordered by the successive governments,” said sitting MLA and former minister TB Jayachandra, who headed the legislature committee that probed NICE irregularities.

Lack of political will

Senior politician AT Ramaswamy, who headed the joint legislature committee constituted to inquire on land encroachment in Bengaluru Urban District, echoed Jayachandra’s opinion.

“No government exhibits political will to accept the report of the committees and commissions constituted to inquire into irregularities. The practice of ordering probes is just an eyewash and it just burdens the state exchequer,” said Ramaswamy.

But, surprisingly in the case of the Ramaswamy Committee, the government acted on the report and according to a statement made in the Assembly, the government retrieved 1,00,555 acres of encroached government land.

It appears constituting a judicial commission under the Commission of Inquiry Act 1956, has proved to be the most convenient tool for the governments. The purpose of such commissions is completely getting defeated however. Two former judges of the Supreme Court, expressed their dissatisfaction over governments pushing probe reports under the carpet. They also noted that spacious rooms have been reserved in a few secretariats to store these reports.

Senior political leader and constitutional expert BL Shankar has an answer. “Retired judges who are being asked to head an Inquiry Commission have to accept the assignment on condition that their reports would be tabled and initiate suitable action on recommendations. Otherwise, the judicial probe will turn out to be a mockery of democracy and justice.”

‘Adjustment politics’

YSV Datta, veteran politician and leader Janata Dal (Secular) said he does not remember any commission or house committee report making a difference to politics in recent years. And attributed this to ‘adjustment politics’ being practiced by all three political parties in the new millennium.

Cutting across party lines, leaders of all the political parties acknowledge Datta’s argument. National general secretary BJP, CT Ravi, employed a different term for the trend and refers to it as “compromising” politics. “BJP state party unit pressurised our government to inquire into cases of irregularities in Arkavathi Layout case and allegation of corruption in power purchase during the previous Congress regime. But, our government cold shouldered our request and played compromising politics,” said Ravi.

probe, Karnataka, Congress government

Former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda and his son and former Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy have repeatedly requested the government to table the legislature committee report on the NICE deal, headed by law and parliamentary affairs minister TB Jayachandra in 2014. The committee submitted its 350-page report in 2016 and pointed at Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprises violating 26 of the 30 conditions laid down in the original agreement.

Ashok Kheni of NICE, who represented Bidar South Assembly constituency from 2013 to 2018, later joined the Congress and contested from Bidar south in 2023. But he lost.

Illegal mining

Similar is the plight of the cabinet sub-committee that inquired about illegal mining in Ballary, Chitradurga and Tumkuru. But, the tragedy is that bureaucrats allegedly involved in illegal operations are still in vantage positions in the mining department.

Kudgi legislator B Nagendra in 2015 was arrested by Lokayukta police on charges of illegal mining. But, he later joined Congress and is now minister of youth empowerment in the Congress government.

Gali Janardhana Reddy, who challenged Siddaramaiah to enter Ballary once, now extended his Kalyana Rajya Pragati Paksha’s support to Congress. “Can you expect justice from the political dispensation, which weakened the Lokayukta by constituting the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB)?” asked a senior Congress leader on condition of anonymity. But, fortunately Karnataka high court recently set aside Congress government’s order of constituting ACB and restored the power of Lokayukta police to probe graft cases against the public servants.

Senior politicians including MC Nanaiah, Kondajji Mohan argued that “expecting justice from judicial commissions, legislative committees and bureaucratic probes is nothing but foolishness. This constitutional apparatus has lost its sanctity. Only consistent efforts of institutions like Samaja Parivarthana Samudaya (SPS) led by social and political activist S R Hirmath have the capacity to take the issue to its logical conclusion”. Kondajji Mohan cited Hiremath’s extraordinary fight against the mining mafia in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, which resulted in sending Gali Janardhana Reddy to jail.

High expectations of good governance

Karnataka’s electorate offered a massive mandate to Congress in the recent Assembly polls and has high expectations from the Siddaramaiah government.

According to a senior Congress leader, it is “high time” the Siddaramaiah and Congress government exhibit political will by extending all support to probe committees and officers, to inquire all the cases impartially and implement the reports without any prejudice.

“This will only help to boost Siddaramaiah’s image,” noted a senior Congress leader.

Read More
Next Story