'Formed to Shield Corrupt Politicians, Weaken Lokayukta': Karnataka HC Abolishes ACB

The HC's decision comes a month after a judge of the same high court, Justice H.P. Sandesh, said that he had been threatened with transfer for hearing a graft case being handled by the Anti-Corruption Bureau.

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New Delhi: The Karnataka high court abolished the state’s Anti-Corruption Bureau on August 11 with a scathing judgment in which it noted that the body was built to weaken the Lokayukta and shield corrupt ministers and politicians.

A division bench of Justice B. Veerappa and Justice K.S. Hemalekha gave the judgment after hearing a petition challenging the ACB’s formation and the March 16, 2016, government order withdrawing the power of the Lokayukta police to register and investigate cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

The two 2016 notifications of the government were challenged by various petitioners, including the Advocates Association, Bengaluru, Chidananda Urs and the Samaja Parivartana Samudaya.

“The very constitution of ACB by the government is to shield the corrupt politicians, ministers, and the officers from the watchful eyes of the Lokayukta and that government is weakening the institution of Lokayukta to protect these persons from prosecution, inter alia under the provisions of the PC Act,” the judgment said, according to Bar and Bench.

Karnataka was ruled by the Congress under Siddaramaiah at that time.

The high court has quashed the March 14, 2016, order of the then state government, forming the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and shifted the cases pending before the ACB to the Lokayukta. Staff of the ACB will be absorbed in the Lokayukta, it directed.

The high court also directed the government to appoint competent persons as Lokayukta and Upa-Lokayukta.

“Absolutely there is no independent application of mind by the state government before passing the impugned executive order and the same is based only on the recommendation made by the DG & IG, thereby the executive order passed by the state government cannot be sustained,” the judgment said.

“The formation of the ACB through an ‘executive order’ is not justified and constitutional,” the judgement said.

The court, while adding that action taken by the ACB so far would stand, did observe that the ACB had not registered any criminal cases against ministers, MPs, MLAs or MLCs and had only registered a few cases against some authorities, according to Bar and Bench‘s report.

The court’s decision comes a month after a judge of the same high court, Justice H.P. Sandesh had said that he was threatened with transfer for hearing a corruption case being handled by the ACB. Justice Sandesh told the ACB’s counsel, “Your ADGP is so powerful,” that another high court judge had also spoken to him of having received threats of transfer.

On July 11, Justice Sandesh issued a written order recording the same. Justice Sandesh had also passed directions to the ACB to produce all closure reports filed since the inception of the ACB.

The Supreme Court eventually stayed some of Justice Sandesh’s directions.