On July 3rd 2010, Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde announced that he is withdrawing his resignation, following a conversation with senior BJP leader L K Advani. Hegde said the BJP has promised to cooperate with the Lokayukta and give the body suo moto powers. Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa told media persons that the state government will also help in checking illegal mining in the state.
Justice Hegde has another year to complete his five-year term as Karnataka Lokayukta.
More than a week after he announced his resignation, Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde seems more at ease. On June 23rd, when he was addressing media persons in Bengaluru, the former Supreme Court judge was visibly upset and frustrated. He admitted as much. Now, a week later, he appears calmer, more comfortable talking about the circumstances that led to his resignation.
Justice Hegde has carried out almost 100 raids throughout Karnataka. Despite having nabbed several government officials for working on the wrong side of the law, his reports and recommendations remained just that: reports and recommendations.
But it is the recent mining scam that pushed 70-year-old Hedge over the edge, when Deputy Conservator of Forests (Karwar) R Gokul was suspended, after he seized eight lakh tonnes of illegally transported iron ore, acting on the directions of the Lokayukta. Hegde says he wanted to protect the man who had acted on his orders. "I did this to prevent any further action from being taken against Gokul".
Hegde’ resignation is also a culmination of what he has been feeling in the past few months. Helplessness. With no powers, he has seen several corrupt public servants walk scot-free.
In this exclusive interview with Citizen Matters, Hegde opens up about the circumstances that led to his decision to quit the Lokayukta. He speaks candidly about what triggered his change of heart towards this high-profile job and the sheer disappointment over not being able to bring the guilty to book most of the time.
Hegde reveals a side that not many may have written or read about – a mix of passion, sensitivity and fire. If there was one interview you wanted to read to understand Santosh Hegde, this is it.
Here are excerpts from the interview.
Bengaluru’s citizens have not taken lightly to your resignation. People have been holding rallies and protests. If all this had happened a few months back, if the demand for an empowered Lokayukta happened a few months back, would you have felt differently and probably not resigned?
Probably if it was two-three months back, yes. Most probably I would have sort of overcome this feeling of desperation. It was more a personal feeling than professional, rising out of the feeling of professional insufficiency.
I was generally very outspoken, at times gregarious, in my own way. When I speak I laugh, I crack jokes. I have a very small circle of friends with whom I grew. I rarely made any friends in the profession. I do have acquaintances with whom I maintain a good relationship in the profession. But there are some people with who I went to college with, we always remained together. We met at least once a month. I’m a member of almost all clubs in Bangalore.
About two to three months back, I started withdrawing myself into a shell. I was not very keen on participating in a lively discussion. All of us did consume alcohol to a limit, we enjoyed our drinks. Normally when you enjoy your drinks, there’s a lot of laughter and exchanges, jokes. It is there till this age. I am 70 now.
My wife also started probing me. Very often even with friends I was sort of absent-minded or my attention was not on the topic that was being discussed. Indications were not very healthy. So I thought the best thing to do in this situation is to talk about myself, talk about my feelings, talk what I feel.
I have no fear of anything because my life is an open book. I didn’t try to show that I was younger than my age. If I tell you then you must understand what excatly my feeling was in that situation. In that background, couple of months back, ultimately I started talking to my wife and many a times I started dropping hints to my friends – ‘What’s the use of continuing? There doesn’t seem to be any appreciation from the government’. Not from people. People have always appreciated me. Media has been extremely good.
Then, only recently, I can’t identify which particular incident triggered this change, but my wife said, ‘No, I think enough is enough. Let’s quit. There’s no point in continuing, you’ll only be sulking that you sent this recommendation and they have not accepted.’ She said let’s quit. I did drop these hints to my friends but they didn’t take it seriously.
About a fortnight back there was a wedding in the family. During that time I had discussions with my brothers and sisters. They also felt I should quit. When people are 55 they retire and go to a corner. At 70, what’s so great about quitting and going. So it was decided. But the question was when would the appropriate time to quit be.
Did you anticipate the response you have received since you announced your resignation?
I never ever anticipated that it will create such a ruckus, for or against. Unfortunately or fortunately, for whatever reason, it has created a furore and more surprising thing is, it is one thing for Karnataka people or Bangaloreans to rise up in arms, but I’m told it’s all over India.
What everyone is asking me is, why I chose June 23rd to drop this bombshell, because 25th was samavesha? Of course it gives room for criticism that I spoilt their party.
First of all this samavesha was never in my mind. I never pay attention to what political parties do in dharnas. It doesn’t register in my mind. But even if it had registered in my mind, I would have still given it on Wednesday.
That’s because on June 21st Mr Gokul, the Deputy Conservator of Forests from Karwar came and showed me a letter. A minister had written that he should be kept under suspension and there’s no way I could have helped him in that short period. I can only write a letter. I don’t speak to anybody on phone. So I thought I should do it. Tuesday I had to go to a village near Gadag because of a prior appointment. It was decided on 21st night. I told my wife, I rang up my brothers and told them I’m submitting my resignation on 23rd.
I did this to prevent any further action from being taken against Gokul. It was a decision, not out of malice , but to save a person, for a good reason. It may have had its own effect. If I had not done it that day he would have been kept under suspension and the enquiry officer would have been changed and a very big scam would have run from Rs 250 crores to thousands of crores. That is now averted. Of course now they have appointed CID to enquire into it. Let them do it. Yesterday I was a little upset about it but not anymore. Let them do what they want. But my reason was to protect this person.
Now I believe they are digging into my past, whether I had a hand in Ramakrishna Hegde (the late former chief minister) withdrawing suo moto power, when I was Advocate General. I don’t remember. Let them show my opinion. If it is true, I will try to justify it, I’ll accept it. I’ll give reason why in today’s context it has become necessary. It might not have been necessary at that point. I don’t believe it because the government never considered me in drafting laws. So I have no memory of that. And I believe I have a reasonably good memory. But I don’t want to deny because let the document speak for itself. I will wait and see when they submit the document.
I have taken time till August 31st not for any sinister reason, not for any profiteering reason. Because if I go, there’ll be no upalokayuta also, then this institution will become defunct. To revive it it will be very difficult for the government. They may make that as an excuse. I also have second part of the mining report to be submitted. I have Sanjana Singh’s accident report to be given. I have told them even though it’s 31st of August, please appoint a Lokayukta or upalokayuta , I’ll quit and go. I don’t want salary till then or anything.
Does the Lokayukta even require suo moto powers, if the government just considered your reports and recommendations?
Look, the two are different things. My reports and recommendations are the culminating party of an enquiry. My suo moto power is necessary for me to investigate higher officers who come within my jurisdiction because people do not file complaints against higher officers – police officers, IAS officers, MLAs, ministers. But they all come under my jurisdiction. Without suo moto power they must give a written complaint, supported by an affidavit. It is very difficult to get complaints against them.
If I had suo moto power and with the past experience, I think if they had given it to me two years back, I could have done a lot of work and cleansed it. Because I personally feel there are honest people who fight to some extent, but they are a very small percentage. A larger percentage of honest people don’t have the courage. They won’t take money but they will yield to pressure and do what others who have taken money want them to do.
"When people ask me what’s my assessment of the present cabinet, I say there are three and a half honest ministers. Three are absolutely honest. I wouldn’t say all of them are very effective. But they are honest. Two of them are honest and effective to some extent. One of them is very honest but his portfolio is such that there’s nothing much he can do. One other person is honest but he yields to all dishonest requests from police, chief minister or anyone else."
So if I had suo moto power, I would have questioned. They are honest alright but why did he do this? I can’t now.
There are plenty of reasons, articles, op-eds, and coffee-table conversations floating around on why political parties and bureaucrats are not for an empowered Lokayukta. What will really need to change for an empowered Lokayukta according to you?
Who gives me that power? The government. Government consists of political bureaucracy. It consists of administrative bureaucracy. Or let me put it as political executive and bureaucratic executive. Who will be most affected if this empowerment comes? Tell me. Not an ordinary man. It’s the ones who are public servants. Majority of them are open to scrutiny. Scrutiny is certainly necessary in regard to them. They are the ones who do not want.
I’ll give an example. When Kumaraswamy’s government was demitting office, he sent a proposal to the then governor to empower me with suo moto powers only against the bureaucrats, not against politicians. Moment he went away, the bureaucrats went to the governor, persuaded him not to pass an ordinance, succeeded. So you know who they are.
The Kumaraswamy government also didn’t give (me suo moto power) against themselves. They gave it against bureaucrats. That is enough . When governor came and told me, I said, ‘Your Excellency, please give me that half power. Let me exercise it and show it to the people that I am doing it in a very fair and unbiased manner.’ He said no, not an officer of your stature, I can’t give you half power. It had some meaning then and purpose behind it.
One problem people point to is politics and money. Power brokers (in the BJP for e.g.) are also ministers and major contributors to election campaigns. Parties (all) have used their money to fight and win campaigns. Given that, the state government will not allow proceedings against these powerful insiders. Is there really a way out of this?
Well I don’t confine it only to BJP. But today BJP is in power. So it stands out and shows. And I think it is shown in a big way that certain personalities with money have purchased power. And naturally when you purchase power, you exercise it in such a manner that you are protected. Yes, the answer to your question is in the positive. It has corrupted the system. But I wouldn’t exclusively out it to BJP.
One thing I have observed since my younger days, seeing the various governments that came to power, in every government there was an element of suspicion about some people at least. Starting from Pandit Nehru’s cabinet. There was the Mundhra scam (The 1957 financial scandal), TTK’s name (former finance minister T T Krishnamachari) was involved in it and there was the jeep scam where Krishna Menon’s (former Defence Minister) name was involved. Arjun Singh’s father (Rao Shiv Bahadur Singh) was caught by CBI and was sentenced to imprisonment (He was convicted for taking bribes to issue a forged document to a diamond mining firm). Lal Bahadur Shastri was there for a short period so there was no scam. Then after Mrs Gandhi took over, everybody knows the various things that happened. Maybe the prime minister was not corrupt, but there were very many ministers.
Politics required money. Politics was no more choice of the people. It was a commodity for sale. Therefore people also succumbed to it. They lost their sense of honesty. They mortgaged their conscience. So naturally money was required. And as inflation went up the cost of everything went up including bribe money. Naturally political expenditure went up.
"We hear of parliamentarians spending about Rs 15-25 crores (on elections). Why? To do public service? Do you have to spend that type of money to do public service?"
Today we hear of corporators spending Rs 2 -3 crores. We hear of MLAs spending Rs 10-15 crores. We hear of parliamentarians spending about Rs 15-25 crores. Why? To do public service? Do you have to spend that type of money to do public service? Keep it in fixed deposit, the interest is huge. Identify the people who are in need of it and serve. That is public service. Not getting elected. And mind not, when you spend money on this election it is an investment. And you must get returns not for the money you have spent, you must get three times more for your personal account and for future election expenditure.
Former Speaker Somnath Chatterjee gave the statistics of the people in the previous parliament, how much money they had declared. I think nearly 45-46 per cent declared two to three times more than the previous term. Where did they get it? Hardly about 10-15 per cent of parliamentarians have a known source of income. Vijay Mallya may have a business. Somebody else may have some other business. How many such people are there in the assembly and parliament? They are full time professionals.
Back to Bangalore – for the common man in the city and indeed throughout the state, you have been some one they could bank on. You are an iconic figure in the city. People, in a way, feel disappointed. How do you feel about that?
I never felt that I was an icon till I resigned. There were praises coming. But now I’ve realised that there such a huge following. Call it a fan-following, call it anything. Yes, main thing is that I’ve let them down. But I would only like to assure them, I have given it a great lot of thinking which I’ve explained to you. It was imperative to save myself from some things which might have been a good thing to happen. I didn’t want it to go into that intended mental depression which I was heading for. Better thing was for me to quit. And I didn’t want to make a lot of noise and go as it has happened now.
I never ever planned, I assure you. But circumstances caused it to be with a bang. I am really really grateful to the people who have even questioned my correctness in taking this decision. And all those who have supported me, a large section, especially from outside Bangalore, very many people have said, ‘You have shown to the people that position is not everything.’
But I would like to tell your readers that if I had not not done this, I would have just gone out as another Lokayukta who never did anything for this institution. Maybe at the cost of one year’s tenure. If they give power to this institution I’ll be strengthening the hand of the next man. And I have no doubt, whosoever comes and sits in this chair, it’s like Vikramaditya’s chair. You may come as a weak person, once you sit here, you get a different strength altogether and your outlook changes.
Even Kumaraswamy must have thought when he appointed me, ‘I got some waste man’. Within three months I asked two of his ministers to be removed from the Cabinet.
How will you continue to fight against corruption after August 31st? In what capacity will we see you?
I would like to work hand-in-hand with those organisations who I think are genuine, who have a genuine cause to fight against corruption and maladministration. I will not form any Association, I will not be member of any managing committee. I will not be a party and accountable to any money they collect. But in their positive, constructive action against corruption and maladministration, I will certainly participate. I have some experience. I can contribute something. And maybe with the good will of the people I will be able to do something.
I haven’t identified any organisations yet. There are very many organisations. Case-to-case basis I’ll go. I’ll not affiliate myself with any one organisation. I may go to one more often than I go to another one. That depends upon their work.