Monday, 3 October 2016

In Lokayukta, action against small fry okayed, big fish files don't get sanction orders

Bangalore Mirror d. 4/19/2016
It seems the state government has a double-standard policy when it comes to prosecuting corrupt officials; one based on rank and political clout. Sanction orders to prosecute small fry accused of accepting bribes of Rs20 and Rs100 are passed in a jiffy, but files seeking the nod to hook the bigger fish -- accused of abetting massive scams -- are lying untouched, gathering dust.

The state government is sitting on at least 145 Prosecution Sanction Orders (PSO) against senior bureaucrats and officials from as many as 23 departments. Though legal experts and a section of officials claim that action should be taken against all corrupt government servants, they pointed out that the government’s two-faced approach was a matter of serious concern.

A top government official revealed that the Lokayukta institution was awaiting PSOs in 145 cases, most involving high-ranking officers. The majority of these pending orders are from the Rural Development and Panchayati Raj (RDPR), Home, Urban Development, and Energy departments.

“In cases pertaining to accepting a bribe, disproportionate assets cases, raids, and cases of dereliction of duty against officials and elected representatives, sanctions are pending, and prominent ones are special officer to chief minister, Gutti Jamunath, formerly Davanagere ZP CEO; Ballari MP Sriramulu; IAS officer S M Raju; chief engineer HC Jayachandra; chief engineer B Guruprasad; besides other department officials including directors, executive engineers, junior engineers, village panchayat secretaries, zilla panchayat chief officers, tahsildars and PDOs (Panchayat Development Officers). In all these cases the government has not given its sanction or a rejection of sanction is being contested,” a lokayukta officer told Bangalore Mirror.

As per a government circular issued on September 26, 2011, a sanction to facilitate the legal process in corruption cases has to be given within three months. Senior officials told BM that the callous attitude in these cases was despite repeated reminders and letters to the government seeking the green signal to initiate legal proceedings against the tainted officials. Without the sanction order, the Lokayukta police cannot proceed with the cases under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

This sanction order is a constitutional provision extended to accused officials to present their arguments and explanations to their superior officers before the clearance is given to officially charge them. If the sanctioning authority or competent authority is satisfied or finds such defence justifiable then he can reject the sanction.

“Repeated reminders have been sent from the Lokayukta registrar’s office to the concerned state government departments for granting sanction to proceed with corruption cases involving high-profile officers, but so far there has been no response,” said a senior Lokayukta official.

Meanwhile, legal experts have stated that this provision was now being misused to dodge prosecution and protect officials under the Lokayukta scanner. However, in certain cases involving small amounts like Rs20 and Rs 1,000 and ranks like lineman, village accountant, bill collector, or a constable, sanctions are quickly accorded.

“The very purpose of legislation enacting section 19 to prevent frivolous sanction has been defeated monotonously by the sanctioning authority by mechanically granting sanction where small amounts and lower grade clerks and staffers are involved, and by turning a blind eye to cases involving huge amounts and top officers. This can be seen from the manner in which the chargesheets are filed in trap cases, where 90 per cent of cases will not exceed a few lakh.

“Here, sanction is granted within days and records show that where huge amounts are involved, it is kept pending from as far back as 2005. This provision is widely misused to suit the needs of influential officers, and High Court directives to send cases involving small amounts to departmental inquiry by the sanctioning authorities over criminal prosecution is not adhered,” CG Sundar, a senior advocate said.

Law minister TB Jayachandra, when contacted, said the issue would be looked into to ensure pendency is redressed. Subhash Chandra Khuntia, the new chief secretary of the state, said, “The general principle is that quick decisions have to be taken. However, I’m yet to look into details of it. Pendency aspect will be looked into.”

Department and officials against whom sanctions have been sought

DC (excise) Somashekarappa; finance advisor, PWD, Govindraju; M H Nagesh, CFO Chickballapur ZP; Mahantappa Erappa Sulibavi CFO, KBJNL Almatti

Cooperative department

Joint registrar Satish; registrar Thimmaiah,

ACP Siddaramaiah; Mandya rural CPI Krishna Murthy; NK Rangaswamy CID PI; PSIs Nilesh Ganapathy, SH Shankar, Somla Nayak; KS Sundaraj DySp ISD

Urban Development department

Hubli-Dharwad commissioner M Thippesh; AEE Chitradurga municipality, AR Chidanand; Mysuru corporation AC Ravi Kumar; Hubballi-Dharwad corporator Bashir Ahmed; Hubballi-Dharwad corporation junior engineer, SN Puttananvar.

Revenue and others

Ballari DDLR (Deputy Director of Land Records) L Narayanaswamy; Karnataka University professor Dr Noor Jahan; Davanagere TP staffer SL Prabhudeva (PWD); BT Mohan executive engineer, minor irrigation, Ballari; SM Raju; KM Narayaswamy IFS; class one officers Rajappa, Shashidar; Bagli tahsildar tourism assistant director Kamlapura; planning department GR Omkarappa; CO Davangere ZP, road safety director TP Narayanswamy. The designations of officers against whom sanction have been sought or is being contested are from the time the cases were taken up.  

Scams grow on trees too; ask BBMP

Bangalore Mirror d. 4/10/2016
t was a brazen scam that ought to have become a case study in itself; one that many knew of, but no one had quantified, either by design or default.

The long and short of it, as Bangalore Mirror has found after examining court documents, was this: 228 trees were felled for a paltry Rs 2.47 lakh when they could have fetched at least 10 times that amount; lakhs of rupees were later siphoned off and shown as expenditure to fell the same (non-existent) trees for road-widening; and all this was done without following procedures that are mandated by a number of environmental laws. Worse, all senior officials both in the state government and the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) would have been in the know of things since matters were later filed in court.
This scam was a bizarre series of financial irregularities and fraudulent activities by BBMP officials that were meticulously documented by environmental activists, and clubbed together as annexures to an interlocutory application that was to be presented to court during the hearing of a public interest litigation (PIL). An interlocutory application is “an application to the court in any suit, appeal or proceedings already instituted in such court, other than a proceeding for execution of a decree or order.”

But when the Karnataka High Court rejected the petition in June 2015, the chance to nail the culprits and also tell the people of the city how officials had been violating laws and looting the public was lost. The application was to have been heard in court the very day that the original petition was rejected.

  How the scam cropped up

The scam dates back much earlier—to 2007-08 when trees were being felled for the widening of Bellary Road (the stretch that leads from Chalukya Circle to the airport). The number of trees felled and the amount recovered were mentioned in response to queries filed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act by CIVIC Bangalore. The NGO was one of the three petitioners in the PIL that had in May 2008 challenged the flouting of urban planning norms and process for road-widening activities by the BBMP.

The RTI responses had come on February 4, 2008, but were clubbed together as part of the interlocutory application on September 4, 2012. Petitioners had planned to take it up on June 8, 2015. However, that day the court rejected the PIL, saying that the second petitioner (Leo Saldanha of Environment Support Group) had an office abutting a road that was slated for widening. The court said, “Some amount of private interest is involved in this litigation, and, therefore, this case cannot be termed as public interest litigation.” ESG itself was the first petitioner, Saldanha the second, and CIVIC Bangalore the third.

At the time of filing of the petition in May 2008, the ESG office was located East End B Main Road in Jayanagar. The NGO later shifted to Outer Ring Road in Banashankari. When the PIL was admitted, no widening of roads were taking place near ESG’s Jayanagar office. The locus standi of Saldanha was never disputed in the eight years when the case was heard in the high court, and over 45 preceding hearings. Many interim orders, seen to be landmark in import, had also been passed earlier in the case.
What the scam was about

The RTI responses were reported about, but few cared to look into the fine print. It was not simply about 228 trees being felled in the 2007-08 fiscal year (ending January 31, 2008) on Bellary Road for an amount of Rs 2,47,322; it also about what tree species were felled, and what amounts were recovered.

In one instance, 19 trees were felled near CBI junction, and auctioned off for a paltry Rs 25,000. These included five mahogany trees, and two raintrees. On the Cunningham Road - Ramanashree junction, nine trees were felled for an amount of a meagre Rs 3,096. This lot included four Ashoka trees. Worse, nine Ashoka trees, four gulmohars and one raintree were chopped down near the Windsor Manor Bridge - Sankey Road Underpass for a measly Rs 4,334.

Leave alone the ecological worth of the trees, the commercial value of the trees were not evaluated in the media either. Even by conservative estimates, the trees that were felled on Bellary Road would have been worth more than Rs 1 lakh each, with some of the fully-grown and mature trees possibly reaching even Rs 4 lakh in commercial terms; these fetched the BBMP a trifle more than Rs 1,000 each. The loss to the public exchequer could have been anything between Rs 2.5 crore and Rs 5.0 crore.

But what happened subsequently was even more baffling.

Between November 5 and November 18, 2008, an amount of at least Rs 4,25,850 was spent for tree-felling on the same stretch on Bellary Road. Five sheets extracted from BBMP’s Detailed Contingent Bill Register showed 46 instances of public funds being withdrawn from the exchequer for hiring contractors to fell trees, including Bellary Road. Most of the entries in the register do not even mention the area where trees were felled. Road-widening and tree-felling on Bellary Road, which finds specific mention in five instances, had already been completed in time for the inauguration of the airport in May 2008.

A closer look at the sheets—that were later submitted as annexures in the interlocutory application—shows the callousness and impunity with which these were done. The works were mentioned under three ambiguous heads: “undertaking tree-felling”, “maintaining tree-felling” and “daily wage for tree-felling”. In none of the entries were the number of trees mentioned, and nor the exact location of the activity entered in as many as 37 of the entries. The amounts withdrawn were even more irregular. In ten instances, Rs 95,000 were shown as bill value; in nine other cases, the bill value was identical: Rs 90,400.

Culprits go scot-free

Quantifying the exact loss to the exchequer on account of selling trees at throwaway or questionable prices is the job of a competent authority like the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) of the country, but the violations were there for all to see and ascertain.

Since the interlocutory application had already been filed, all the respondents to the petition (even if it was eventually rejected) would have been aware of the contents, which included documentation of the two scams. The respondents included the chief secretary, the principal secretary to the department of forests, ecology and environment, the BBMP commissioner, the palike tree officer, besides eleven others.

In simple words, all top officials both in the government and palike were aware of what was going on, but nobody did anything to prevent the loot and destruction of the city’s forest wealth. And mind you, this was a scam pertaining only to one road in a city where 400 roads were marked by the BBMP for widening.

Delhi: Senior civil judge arrested by CBI on charges of taking Rs 20 lakh bribe

Indian Express d. 29/9/2016

A senior civil judge from a Delhi court was arrested by the CBI Thursday on charges of bribery and produced in a special court, which remanded her to judicial custody. Sitting judge Rachna Tiwari Lakhanpal has been accused by the investigating agency of allegedly striking a deal in connection with a case she was adjudicating. According to sources, of the alleged deal of Rs 20 lakh deal, Rs 5 lakh had been paid to the accused judge. Her husband Alok Lakhanpal, who is a practicing advocate, is a co-accused in the case.
A special court remanded her to judicial custody. Her husband and another accused, Vikas Mehal, who was appointed as court commissioner by the accused judge in the civil case, were remanded to two-days police custody. According to the source, the court commissioner appointed by the judge played the role of a middleman. Sources also said that the CBI raided the Lakhanpals’ residence at Gulabi Bagh judicial complex in the early hours on Thursday and recovered Rs 93.6 lakh in total.
The source also said Rs 60 lakh was recovered from the bedroom of the Lakhanpals, and the rest of the recovered from children’s bedroom. The complaint, the source said, is of September 27. There were two witnesses, both government officials, present during the raid, sources said.