Karnataka to consult legal experts on Lokayukta ouster

Belagavi (Karnataka), July 6 (IANS) The Karnataka legislature would consult legal experts on the opposition’s move to oust the state Lokayukta over corruption charges against the anti-graft watchdog, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said on Monday.

“Presiding officers of both houses (legislative assembly and council) will consult legal experts on the opposition’s move to remove the ombudsman, in the absence of clarity in the Karnataka Lokayukta Act to act against its own ombudsman,” Siddaramaiah told reporters here.

The chief minister’s remark came after assembly Speaker Kagodu Thimmappa and council Chairman D.H. Shanakaramurthy told BJP and JD-S lawmakers that their June 25-26 joint petition was being studied by their offices to allow or not a motion on the Lokayukta’s removal.

The state government on July 1 had set up a Special Investigation Team (SIT) at the behest of Lokayukta Justice Y. Bhaskar Rao to probe corruption charges against some of its unidentified officials and a Rs.1-crore bribe charge against his son (Ashwin Rao alias Krishna Rao) by an executive engineer.

“We (the ruling Congress) are ready to debate the issue in both houses if their presiding officers permit and consider the opposition’s move if the law permits to act against the ombudsman,” Siddaramaiah said outside the assembly.

The state legislature is holding a 10-day monsoon session since June 29 in the Vikas Suvarna Soudha in Belagavi, 510 km from Bengaluru.

With Congress lawmaker Basavaraj Rayareddy asserting that neither the state government nor the governor could remove the ombudsman unless section 6 of the Lokayukta Act was amended, the party is in a dilemma over the opposition’s ouster move, as an SIT probe is underway into the graft charges.

“The Lokayukta cannot be removed even if the SIT indicts him, as the Act in the present form protects him from impeachment or removal,” Rayareddy told reporters in Hubbali, 410 km from Bengaluru.

Observing that the Lokayukta should step down till the SIT probe was completed and his son was exonerated, Yelburga legislator Rayareddy said he would move a motion in the assembly to amend the Act on the lines of Article 317 of the Constitution, which allows the governor to suspend a public service commission officer during a probe.

“If section 6 of the Lokayukta Act is amended, it will give the governor power to suspend Rao till the SIT probe is completed and its findings are made public,” Rayareddy said.

Earlier, the speaker told the opposition members that since it was the first time such a petition was made against the Lokayukta, he had to study it carefully.

“We have to face public wrath if any wrong decision is taken. I am examining if your move is within the constitutional framework,” Thimmappa told opposition leader and former chief minister Jagadish Shettar of the BJP, and JD-S leader H.D. Kumaraswamy.

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