Ombudsman blasts Yeddyurappa on land scam probe

Friday, November 26, 2010

HASSAN - Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa’s decision to order a judicial probe into land deals of the past 10 years has led to a raging controversy. The state’s ombudsman is upset over it and the opposition is questioning the suitability of the judge named to head the probe.

Ombudsman (Lok Ayukta) N. Santosh Hegde, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, Friday lashed out at the state government for ordering the judicial probe into land scams when he was already investigating it.

The opposition Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) raised doubts about the suitability of B. Padmaraj, retired judge of the Karnataka High Court, to head the probe as he had received a plot from a housing society whose actions have been challenged in the state high court.

Hegde, whose father late K.S. Hegde was vice president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) now ruling Karnataka, has written to the state government asserting that ordering another probe violated the Karnataka Lok Ayukta Act.

“If they do not have trust in Lok Ayukta, they can as well wind it up,” Hegde told reporters in this town, about 180 km from Bangalore.

“They (the government) did not even have the courtesy to consult me,” an upset Hegde said.

Yeddyurappa decided on the probe following allegations that he had favoured his kin with prime land and freed from government control large tracts of land to benefit people who were investing money in his sons’ business.

Hegde asserted he would continue his investigation into the allegations.

Hedge wrote a letter to the state’s chief secretary Thursday, saying: “I am investigating a few cases of land scams filed against the chief minister. At this juncture a judicial probe has been announced without my consent, violating the Karnataka Lok Ayukta Act of 1984.”

He said under the Act “handing over a case being investigated by Lok Ayukta or Upa Lokayukta (deputy ombudsman) to any other commission requires their mandatory consent.”

The government has defended ordering the judicial probe though the Lok Ayukta was already investigating the allegations.

Higher Education Minister and Yeddyurappa’s confidante V.S. Acharya said late Thursday that the judicial probe was set up under the central legislation, which takes precedence over the state acts.

The Padmaraja probe has been set under the central Commission of Enquiry Act while Lok Ayukta is set up under the act of the state legislature.

Hegde rubbished the justification and said it was better for the ministers to study the Constitution before making such statements.

In the meantime, JD-S state president and former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy raised the issue of plot allotment to Padmaraja in the Karantaka State Judicial Department Employees House Building Cooperative Society in south Bangalore.

The society is mired in controversies over the land it has acquired to form the residential layout for its members who include several judges of the high court.

Three former judges of the high court - Justices K. Jagannath Shetty, G.P. Shivaprakash, M.P. Chinnappa - had themselves filed a case against the Society, alleging various illegalities in its membership, site allotment to kin of office bearers and selling sites meant for park and other common amenities.

The case is still going on in high court.

A committee of state legislators, which enquired into land grabbing in and around Bangalore in 2007, had also blasted the society, saying it had “become the leading law-breaker without the least fear or care of law, propriety or public interest.”

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