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The Rediff Interview/Karnataka Lok Ayukta Justice Santhosh Hegde
'Politicians can be made accountable'
May 09, 2008
The huge assets of candidates fighting the elections have sent shock waves across Karnataka.
Although the leaders have declared their assets and liabilities before the Election Commission of India, their responsibility does not end there. By June 30, they will have to declare their assets and liabilities once again before the Lok Ayukta and a failure to do so could attract imprisonment of one month.
Vicky Nanjappa caught up with state Lok Ayukta Justice Santhosh Hegde, a former judge of the Supreme Court, and found out how he plans to reduce corruption once the election process is complete. He says that his institution has managed to create awareness among the bureaucrats after the several raids were conducted on them. It is just a matter of time before politicians are made accountable, he says.
Is it mandatory for MLAs to declare their assets and liabilities before the Lok Ayukta once the election process is complete?
Yes it is mandatory for the MLAs to declare their assets and liabilities before the Lok Ayukta every year before June 30. The Karnataka Lok Ayukta Act of 1984 mandates every elected representative to file their assets and liabilities before the Lok Ayukta every year.
If they fail to do so, then what action would be initiated against them?
I would like to send out a strong message to all elected representatives that they will be strictly dealt with if they do not declare their assets and liabilities before June 30. There will be no concessions after that. Failing to comply with the mandatory provision will attract imprisonment of a month. The Lok Ayukta will initiate proceedings under the provisions of Section 176 of the Indian Penal Code which states that any person failing to furnish information will be liable to imprisonment for a month.
If an MLA is convicted for not furnishing information can s/he he disqualified?
The law is strange regarding this. It states that an MLA can be disqualified only if convicted and undergoes imprisonment for two years or above. If the imprisonment is below two years then s/he cannot be disqualified.
What happens if there is a difference in the value of the assets declared before the Election Commission and the Lok Ayukta? Will you be comparing the statements filed before the ECI and the Lok Ayukta?
It definitely is an offence if the statements filed before the ECI and the Lok Ayukta are different. Yes we will be comparing the two statements. But unfortunately the Lok Ayukta is not vested with suo motu powers to initiate action in case of any discrepancy or difference in the two statements. However a member of the public could step in at such a time. He could obtain both the statements and in case he finds a difference, he could bring it to the notice of the Lok Ayukta. It is only if we have a complaint on hand that we can initiate action. An inquiry will be conducted and the MLA will have to explain why he changed his statement.
Corruption has reached such great heights in Karnataka. The mining scam has brought to forefront the fact that the mining lobby is able to control the government. You had been asked to conduct an inquiry into the mining scam. What is the status of the report?
The report is nearing completion. We have been conducting inquiries on officials. However, it may take at least another month before the final report is complete. We are unable to question MLAs at this point of time as the election process is on. Questioning an MLA would give undue advantage to their opponents at this time at least.
Will you make the report public?
Unfortunately I cannot do that. When the chief minister's office asked me to conduct an inquiry, the order had a confidentiality clause in it. This means I am supposed to submit the report to the CM and not anyone else.
How has it been working without a government in place?
To be very honest, it is better to work when there is a popular government in place. It is very difficult to get work done under a government run by bureaucrats. An elected government at least responds, though belatedly.
What do you expect out of the new government?
If you listen to what all leaders are saying now, it is clear that they want to strengthen the hands of the Lok Ayukta. It is evident that the people are fed up of corruption and anyone fighting it is a hero today. The Lok Ayukta has not been vested with the powers to initiate suo motu proceedings against the elected representatives. I wish that the government brings about an amendment which empowers the Lok Ayukta to initiate suo motu action.
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