The Karnataka High Court on Thursday, 11 August, ordered the scrapping of the state’s Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB), in what is being seen as a blow to the BJP-led state government.
The ACB reported directly to the chief minister, raising questions on its autonomy in probing corruption cases.
A division bench comprising Justices B Veerappa and KS Hemalekha passed the order while hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed in 2016 that challenged the state government’s notification of constituting the ACB.
The judgement stated, “The State Government is not justified in constituting ACB by way of an executive government order dated March 14, 2016 when the Karnataka Lokayukta Act, 1984 has occupied the field to eradicate corruption in the State of Karnataka. [sic]”
The bench also ordered the transferring of all cases pending with the ACB to the Karnataka Lokayukta and its police wing.
Legal experts laud HC decision
Judicial experts in the state expressed satisfaction over the axing of the ACB by the high court.
Justice Santosh Hegde, former Lokayukta of Karnataka, welcomed the judgement.
He told South First, “It is a people-friendly decision. As governments do not allow proper functioning of an investigating agency, I welcome the high court’s decision to scrap the ACB.”
Slamming the functioning of the ACB as biased, the former Supreme Court judge said, “Not a single politician has been prosecuted since the formation of the ACB. Only one MLA is under investigation due to pressure from the Enforcement Directorate (ED).”
Citing the example of his report on illegal mining in Karnataka, Hegde explained, “One of the reports on illegal mining in the state named three chief ministers across three political parties — the BJP, Congress, and the JD(S) — besides six ministers, many MLAs, and more than 150 government officers including IAS, IPS. Did the ACB act against any of the politicians or bureaucrats?”
Another judicial expert and former Supreme court judge, Justice V Gopala Gowda, expressed support for the high court judgement.
He told South First, “The scrapping of the ACB should have been done long ago because it stands as a farcical body contrary to the Lokayukta. It did not act against wrongdoers, be they political executives or bureaucrats.”
Gowda termed the formation of the ACB by the state government in 2016 a “fraud in power” through an executive order.
Product of Congress, protected by BJP
The ACB was constituted by the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government in 2016.
It subsequently withdrew power from Lokayukta to investigate cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The BJP, then in the Opposition, vehemently opposed the decision.
Down the line, restoring powers of the Lokayukta became a poll promise of both the BJP and the JD(S)-Congress coalition government, but it did not happen.
ACB stoked controversy
The ACB in the past few months ran into controversy after Karnataka High Court Judge HP Sandesh alleged indirect threat of transfer.
The judge on 4 July orally revealed that he was given an indirect threat of transfer for continuously monitoring the progress of the ACB in a corruption case that involved an incumbent deputy commissioner of Bengaluru.