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Santosh Hedge for CBI probe into Karnataka Lokayukta graft case

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Bengaluru: The demand for a CBI probe into corruption charges in the Karnataka Lokayukta intensified on Saturday, with former ombudsman Justice N. Santosh Hegde seeking inquiry by the premier agency and slamming the state government for ordering an SIT probe instead.

“As graft charges against some officials in the Lokayukta office and bribe charge against son (Ashwin Rao) of ombudsman Justice Y. Bhaskar Rao are grave, only a CBI probe will bring out the truth and not an SIT, which is a fact-finding body,” Hegde told reporters here.

The state government on June 29 set up the Special Investigation Team (SIT), headed by Additional Director General of Police Kamal Pant, on the request of Bhaskar Rao and the Karnataka High Court on July 1 allowed it to probe the charges.

Questioning the inability of the state government in handing over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the former Supreme Court judge said the SIT cannot arrest a person or conduct custodial interrogation under prevailing laws and its terms of reference.

“SIT is a fact-finding body like a commission of inquiry. It does not have legal teeth to proceed against the accused or raid their premises to unearth evidence in the form of documents or other material,” said Hegde.

After retiring from the apex court, Hegde was state Lokayukta for five years from 2006-11 and is well-known for his landmark probe report on the multi-crore mining scam in the state, which led to resignation of then BJP chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa in July 2011 and arrest of a few BJP lawmakers.

Accusing the state government of protecting the Lokayukta whose son was named in a complaint by an executive engineer for allegedly seeking Rs.1 crore bribe to avoid being raided by its police, Hegde said attempts were being made to destroy evidence as bundles of files were seen being taken to Rao’s home.

“I fail to understand why the state government is unwilling to hand over this case to CBI when it could do so in other cases like the death of IAS officer D.K. Ravi recently and the multi-crore lottery scam in which former top and current police officials are allegedly involved. I learnt home minister (K.J. George) is ready to seek a CBI probe into alleged cricket betting in the state,” he noted.

A defiant Rao, who was Karnataka chief justice (1999-2001), however, dismissed abetment charges against him and bribe charge against his son.

“To clear the air and ensure fair probe, I had asked the city crime branch to investigate the charges. When its joint commissioner declined to probe for some reason, I sought an SIT probe under the Karnataka Lokayukta Act,” Rao told IANS, adding he would quit if the charges were proved.

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, however, said in the assembly early this week that the state had no power to order a CBI probe into such charges into the anti-graft watchdog.

Besides hundreds of lawyers, rights activists, civil society members and Aam Aadmi Party’s state unit volunteers have been staging demos and taking out processions in the city daily for Rao’s resignation till the probe is completed.

Opposition BJP and Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) members sought Rao’s impeachment and removal by amending the Lokayukta Act during the ongoing monsoon session.

(IANS)

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