Former Lokayukta (or people's ombudsman) of Karnataka, N Santosh Hegde, who had prepared a voluminous report on illegal iron ore mining in the state in July 2011 that had severely indicted former Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa, is "saddened" that the Bharatiya Janata Party has nominated him as its Chief Ministerial candidate in the forthcoming assembly elections in the state. A former judge of the Supreme Court of India, Justice Santosh Hegde, whose father and he has had close links with the BJP, told Paranjoy Guha Thakurta in an exclusive interview that he and his officers in the Lokayukta had found "foolproof" and clinching evidence against Yeddyurappa and his sons for receiving bribes for granting illegal favours to mining companies. He express unhappiness that the state government and other law-enforcing agencies had not diligently pursued the cases against the former Chief Minister and his family members and rued the way in which the faith of ordinary people in the criminal justice system had been eroded.
Here is the full transcript of the interview.
Paranjoy: Hello and welcome to this special programme for Newsclick and The Wire. I am Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and with me here I have Justice N Santosh Hegde. He is a former judge of the Supreme Court of India and a former Lokayukta or "people's ombudsman" of Karnataka. Thank you so much Justice Hegde for giving us your time....You submitted your final report on the iron ore mining scandal in Bellary on the 26th of July 2011, a few days before you retired. After that, the then Chief Minister, BS Yeddyurappa, had to resign his position, soon thereafter on the 31st of July. And in October that year, he became perhaps the first serving Chief Minister of India who was behind bars. He was behind bars for 23 days. Now, the same Mr Yeddyurappa is the Chief Ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the assembly elections which are going to take place in May. How do you react to this fact?
Justice N Santosh Hegde: I feel very sad because of the fact (that) I thought there was a foolproof case against him and I didn't expect what happened in the trial court in the first instance. I'm not very sure whether they have filed an appeal against that order or not. We had enough proof that he received nearly Rs 20 crore from a company called South West Mining Company which had absolutely no capital. It received one day, Rs 20 crore starting from the account of Jindal Steel, Toranagallu, Bellary, which moved into three or four... benami (accounts) .... and it came and landed in the account of South West Mining Company. Out of that Rs 20 crore, (an amount of) Rs 10 crore by cheque was purportedly donated to an education trust in a neighbouring district called Shimoga district which is wholly owned by Mr Yeddyurappa and his family. For a public servant to receive such a huge gift, according to me, is contrary to law, the disciplinary rules as well as the fact that the file was then pending with Mr Yeddyurappa. As a Chief Minister he was having the mining portfolio with him and he received Rs 10 crore as donation which, according to me, per se shows that money was paid not as a donation but for considerations for showing favours in the mining application. Of course, (the) mining application was not granted thereafter because that matter was being investigated by me.
Paranjoy: Now, when you were the Lokayukta, you had pointed out how Mr. Yeddyurappa's two sons, Raghavendra and Vijendra, they had received a huge amount of money in the region of about Rs 10 crore which was donated to this educational trust run by his family. It was also found out that this same company, JSW, which is headed by Mr Sajjan Jindal, spent Rs 20 crore to purchase the land about which you talked about.
Justice Hegde: No, no. (The) land I need to talk about... this is a different transaction altogether. There is a place called Rachenahalli near Bangalore, Whitefield, where seven acres of land was acquired by the government of Karnataka some years earlier and compensation was paid, the possession (of the land) was taken, the revenue records showed the land as belonging to the government, but it was not utilised. Mr Yeddyurappa as Chief Minister de-notified the seven acres of land which, according to me, is contrary to the judgment of the Supreme Court as also the law. Out of those seven acres, there was (some land) purchased by a minister in his Cabinet called Mr Krishnaiah Shetty. He purportedly sold one acre of land by a registered sale deed for a consideration of nearly Rs 40 lakh or so to Yeddyurappa's son-in-law and (his) two sons. The very land that they purchased for about Rs 40 lakh of rupees was immediately thereafter purchased by Southwest Mining Company for a consideration of another Rs 10 crore. I mean, (the land) value cannot just go up like that. Obviously this a transaction, (which) in my opinion, which of course is not accepted by the court, is a consideration for something else, other than the real market value (of the land), but it is a consideration for Mr Yeddyurappa to pass a favourable order in the mining application that was pending before him.
Paranjoy: Justice Hegde, you know, what were the circumstances under which the former Chief Minister Mr Yeddyurappa was acquitted in October 2016. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) took its own time appealing. It took eight months. Finally, what we found is that the judge who had acquitted him, even the Anti-Corruption Bureau of the Karnataka government even recommended that an investigation be launched against him way back in September 2017....How was what you described as a foolproof case of corruption against Mr Yeddyurappa and his sons, how did the entire matter play out in different courts of law? And he was given virtually a clean chit.
Justice Hegde: Well, it's rather difficult to comment on the judgment of a court by making an accusation of corruption or something, but I can only say that I cannot accept this judgment because the money (was) received by Mr Yeddyurappa by way of a cheque. So there is no dispute that he received that money and also there's no dispute that there was an application pending for grant of mining licence before the Chief Minister, who was also the minister for mining which, in my opinion, by itself proves that the money has not gone as a consideration for the purchase of one acre of land or for (a) donation to his family education trust. Obviously, it is clear to my mind at least that this was an illegal gratification given by the South West Mining Company to get a mining licence. I look at it from that point of view. I have not read the judgment of the trial court but I just can't reconcile myself to the fact that these two transactions have...had judicial acceptance.
Paranjoy: You know, Justice Hegde, I go back to the same question I asked you earlier. Today the Bharatiya Janata Party under Mr Narendra Modi is in power in Delhi. Look we all know you were the son of Justice KS Hegde, he is a former Supreme Court judge like you, he had been superseded in 1993..
Justice Hegde: 1973
Paranjoy: Sorry, I beg your pardon, 1973...by Justice A N Ray after the Kesavananda Bharati case, the very well-known case was about how much Parliament could change the basic structure of the Constitution. Your father was a Speaker of the Lok Sabha, he was one of the founding members of the BJP. I'll recall another incident to you. On the 23rd of June, 2010, you were so unhappy when the Karnataka government transferred an officer of the Forest Department, rather didn't transfer, (but) suspended him – he was Deputy Conservator of Forests Mr R Gokul, that you resigned and finally the top leadership of the BJP include Mr L K Advani persuaded you to take back your resignation. So how do you see that this same party has completely forgotten all the evidence that you put out in these voluminous reports? You are carrying them with you, I can show this here, where you said that you have enough evidence to show, and you have just outlined in graphic detail, how this person received illegal gratifications.
Justice Hegde: Well I can’t repeat that sentence again because the fact is that the matter is sub judice. But I would like to tell you one thing. Yes, one of my officers, was working with me in (the office of the) Lokayukta on deputation called Mr Gokul was suspended because he didn’t obey the instructions of a minister to come and see him at a place which was owned or possessed by a person against whom the Karnataka Lokayukta had filed a charge-sheet... So he said: “I am not coming to that building, call me anywhere else.”
But the minister did not like it and consequently he was suspended. So when I asked the Chief Secretary: "How can you keep him under suspension when he is working under me, without consulting me?"
He said that the order have been passed and I can’t do anything about that. So I thought that if I can’t protect an officer who is working under my instructions from being suspended, it is not worthwhile staying in the office. I resigned. Well, many people came and asked me to take back my resignation, but I did not agree. Then one day Mr L K Advani, whom I consider equivalent to my father, with whom I had spent a lot of time when he was in jail, I was appearing for (him) the detenues...
Paranjoy: Was it during the Emergency?
Justice Hegde: Yes, it was during the Emergency… I was the lawyer for Shri A B Vajpayee-ji, then L K Advani-ji, S N Mishra and Madhu Dandavate.
Paranjoy: You were appearing for all four of them!
Justice Hegde: Yes, yes. And I was also the lawyer for Ramakrishna Hegde, who was in jail, Mr Deve Gowda...I got an opportunity to fight their cases. In (was against) this background (that) I had come know Mr Advani pretty well. And Advani was one person who was closely connected to my family. When my father died, he came to our village, to participate in the grief which we were in at that point of time. So I have very high regard for Mr L K Advani. So Mr Advani one day telephoned me and said to me that "Santosh you are doing a good job, don’t resign."
I said: "How can I continue to be in the office when I can’t protect my own officers? I am not there only to (do) this thing (for) myself."
He said, "What is it that you want?’
I said I want this suspension to be revoked and I will take back my resignation. And that was done. Mr (Nitin) Gadkari was the all-India President of the BJP at that time. He and Mr Yeddyurappa, came to my residence, and gave me the letter for withdrawal of suspension ...I withdrew my resignation for that purpose... I could not have continued if the suspension order (against Gokul) was not revoked.
Paranjoy: I want to again take you back to what happened after that. The Anti-Corruption Bureau in the Karnataka government, launched an investigation against the CBI judge, R B Dharmagowda, in September 2017. He was the same person who had acquitted Mr Yeddyurappa. Now what you found is that something very, very unusual (was) happening. The advocate, Mr H M Siddharth, who had represented Mr Yeddyurappa and his family members and his sons, he was actually caught by the staff of the Vidhan Soudha, with Rs 2 crore in cash...(he was) caught in October 2016. Earlier, we also found that there have been a number of attempts made to bribe judges...In fact, after Gali Janardhan Reddy was jailed and he was in Chanchalguda jail in Hyderabad in July 2012, the lower court judge, Mr T Lakshminarasimha Rao, he was arrested and he was jailed because in his confessional statement, he said relatives and associates of Gali Janardhan Reddy had offered him Rs 100 crore to secure bail! So tell us about the way criminal justice system works?
Justice Hegde: It is very unfortunate that the confidence the people repose in the judiciary, right now (has been eroded)... I think it is really a sad state of affairs that we do hear about corruption in the judiciary, which is an admitted fact. Nobody can deny that. These instances, which you mentioned, have appeared in the newspapers. I have read them also, which gives room to think that judgements delivered in those circumstances may not be correct judgements.
Paranjoy: You know we have seen that after your report came out there were three former Chief Ministers whose records you were very, very critical of. And it was not just Mr Yedyurappa, you were critical of the late Mr Dharam Singh, the former Chief Minister Mr H D Kumaraswamy. All of them, you found, were in some way or the other were involved in these illegal activities, in the illegal manner in which iron ore was being mined. So in that sense, your report wasn’t partisan, you were in a sense indicting the entire political class.
Justice Hegde: I wouldn’t say I was indicting the political class. But I had an opportunity of enquiring into the actions of these three Chief Ministers and I have given voluminous evidence to show why I have implicated them in this matter. Well, the acquittal of Mr Yeddyurappa gives me a bit of sadness and I don’t even know whether the state government of Karnataka has filed or preferred an appeal or not in the matter...Maybe the investigating agencies have filed (appeals) or not. But one thing (I think) is certain (is) that today money plays a very big role in all the actions and inactions on part of the government...
Paranjoy: I want to draw your attention to the report that you presented where you talked about the illegal export of iron ore from Belekeri port by Adani Enterprises. And you said that there were incriminating documents which suggest that (the company) had made illegal payments to the director of the port, to custom officials, to police personnel. But eventually (the case) did not stand up in the court of law. The Supreme Court, the special investigation team of the Karnataka Lokayukta said no case had been made out. And the CBI and the Lokayukta eventually filed closure reports against Adani Enterprises. Why do I bring out this case? (It) is because the head of the Adani Group, Mr Gautam Adani, is perceived to be very close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi?
Justice Hegde: Well Let me give you the background of this case as I have not studied the B-report filed in the case of the Adanis, but I have studied the case pertaining to one Doddanavar, another company which is similar to what has been alleged against the Adanis. On February 19-20 of 2010, Lokayukta officers raided the offices of a company called Doddanavar, and they seized certain documents from the computer and hard copies also from there, from which it was found that they have exported huge quantities of iron ore without permission (for) excavation, storage, transportation and export. Without any one of these documents, they had exported (a) huge quantity of iron ore. When we investigated, we gave a copy of the investigation (report) to the Director of Mines saying that this is what has happened in the case and all, please look into it.
From the records I now find out, the Director of Mines at that point of time issued them a notice saying that you have exported so much iron ore without paying the royalty and therefore, you have caused a loss to the state. This was sometime in the month of March 2010. In the month of June 2010, the Doddanavar Company goes and pays all the money due as royalty to the government of Karnataka. Now royalty is only Rs 27 per metric tonne, whereas at that point in time, they were exporting one metric tonne of iron ore for Rs 6,500-7,000. Now it is easy for them to pay Rs 27 and be done with it. But our charges were not that they cheated the government of the money. Our charges were (that) of (stealing) property. (The company) purchased and excavated illegally mined iron ore and they (had) stored (the iron ore) which is controlled by the Mining Act and the rules...they then transported it which is contrary to the Mining Act and rules and exported (the material) also. These are all separate offences but when the investigating agencies filed the FIR, the investigating agency gave a B report .
Paranjoy: What is a B report?
Justice Hegde: A "B Report" is (given when) no case (has been) made out.
Paranjoy: I see, Then you think the Adani Enterprises case is somewhat similar
Justice Hegde: That's what I was told. It is a similar case. I have not read it. They paid the royalty which is due to the government. The B report is filed and the court accepted the B report. What happened to the illegal action (against the company for) extraction, storage, transportation and exportation (of illegally mined iron ore).
Paranjoy: Now, suppose hypothetically there is a BJP government that comes to power in Karnataka–and we will know (the outcome of the elections) on the 15th of May. Suppose hypothetically, Mr Yeddyurappa becomes the next Chief Minister of Karnataka. What would this mean for the investigations, the judicial processes that would follow?
Justice Hegde: Since they have filed a B report. It's for the investigating agency to challenge it....No, the investigating agency itself has submitted the B report, so they can't challenge it. Now it's left to others who have some public interest... to challenge the order. Merely compensating the royalty part doesn't exculpate (the company) from the other charges of illegal mining. All these are very serious charges (under) the Mines and Minerals Development Act. They ought to have considered different actions under different provisions of the law. But by merely saying (give us) compensation is like (a situation when after) a thief (is) caught, he says he will pay for the value of stolen goods. Can you get away with the theft charge?
Paranjoy: Do you believe the CBI is under tremendous political pressure?
Justice Hegde: I wouldn't want to say that because during the Congress rule it was called the Congress Bureau of Investigation.
Paranjoy: It was also described by a judge of the Supreme court as a caged parrot. We have two former directors of the CBI being investigated by the very same agency they headed.
Justice Hegde: I mean it's not only the CBI. It is there everywhere..
Paranjoy: You've talked about the nexus between the mining lobby, between businesspersons and politicians, but this has also been facilitated by corrupt bureaucrats. Now in your report you had recommended action against over 787 officers of the Karnataka government and relatively recently, on the 17th of May 2017, a serving officer of the Indian Administrative Service–I should name him, Mr Gangaram Baderia. He was arrested. Was this a rather rare or an egregious example of a corrupt bureaucrat because he was also... the accusations against him are also pertaining to iron ore (mining).
Justice Hegde: Yes. He was Secretary, Mining. Nothing has been done based on my report. The present political party which is in power in Karnataka. They walked all the way from Bellary to Bangalore as a protest for not implementing my report. They have been in charge for four years. What have they done? It only shows that when it comes to brass-tacks, all political parties are the same.
Paranjoy: How do you react to the social activist Ravi Krishna Reddy (who), in March 2017, ...wrote to the five top judges of the Supreme Court of India alleging that the then Chief Justice of Karnataka Justice Shubhro Kamal Mukherjee had favoured Gali Janardhana Reddy. What would you like to say anything about his allegation?
Justice Hegde: There were many allegations against that person (meaning Justice Mukherjee). This is only one of them only.. and he has been given a membership of a tribunal (from) what I read in the papers... there were serious allegations against that particular judge. Ravi Krishna Reddy did the right thing to bring it to the notice of the superior court ....otherwise he might have (himself) gone to the Supreme Court or something. He didn't go to the Supreme court ultimately. (I learn) ...has been given the membership of some tribunal.
Paranjoy: After spending about three years behind bars, the person who is often considered to be the kingpin, the lynchpin of the scandal, Gali Janardhan Reddy, former minister in Yeddyurappa's government...when his daughter Brahmini gets married in Bangalore the amount of money that is spent is unprecedented...all kinds of reports are there. The Brigade Palace Ground in Karnataka was converted into some sort of.. all the monuments of Karnataka (were) rebuilt over there. And mind you ,this was just around the time demonetisation had happened in November 2016. Five days later, the Income Tax Department raids him. In between what happens (is that) one driver called K C Ramesh...he is supposed to be working for an officer of the Karnataka government. He commits suicide and in his suicide note he writes that he was being forced to convert Rs 100 crore of black money into white. What do you say about the sheer conspicuous manner in which this person who, after spending three years in jail, ...splurges on his daughter's wedding. Even the invitation card that he sent reportedly cost a huge amount of money. And what happened subsequently? .
Justice Hegde: That itself indicates the fact that nothing has been done pursuant to my mining report. If they were to be raided properly and the properties to seized and their accounts were sealed too... such amounts of money would not be available to them. That apart, this also shows the failure of demonetisation because if a person would come from jail and within a few days could get Rs 100-150 crore in present-day currency to spend on his daughter's wedding, that shows a certain class of people in this country can get over the law very easily.
Paranjoy: One other question, the penultimate one...How important are institutions and how important are the individuals who head these institutions? Under you, the people's ombudsman, the institution of the Lokauykta in Karnataka was very, very active–I should say aggressively active–in unearthing the iron ore mining scandal. You were succeeded by a former Chief Justice of Karnataka, Justice Bhaskara Rao. He was a person whose son was accused of blackmail and extortion. In a sense the whole institution of the Lokayukta got degraded before the eyes of the people. What do you have to say about the institution and the people who head these institutions?
Justice Hegde: The Karnataka Lokayukta institution was one of the first ombudsman institutions created (anywhere in India), maybe only after Madhya Pradesh. It was expected to be a very strong ombudsman's body. Two powers were given to the institution. One is grievance redressal, that is giving relief to people who suffer because of... maladministration or no administration. The other one is to fight corruption through the Lokayukta police, that is the police of the Lokayukta . These are the only two powers the Lokauykta has.
For very many reasons, though the institution came into existence (in) 1986, till about 2001, nobody did anything in the institution. (The heads) just came as retired judges, enjoyed the place and went away. It was Justice N Venkatachala who came in 2001 who really created ripples in society by raiding many people ... and showed what the Lokauykta was. I succeeded him in 2006 and I also found the institution had very strong powers. It could suo motu, that is, by itself, without any complaint, starting an investigation even against the Chief Minister and other higher authorities (in the state government) without anybody's permission. Such was the institution, which was liked by very many people in Karnataka. We did a hell of a lot of work by catching corrupt people and granting relief to people who could not find relief from the government. Unfortunately it became very unpopular with the people in power. So the first thing that happened was that soon after I retired, two other people came and left in between. Then came Mr Bhaskara Rao.
Bhaskara Rao was suspected to be a corrupt judge because (when) his name appeared in the newspapers (that he was being considered for the post of Lokayukta), the Bar Association of Karnataka passed a resolution saying he's corrupt... don't bring him. But still they got him. And what did he do? He brought in a person, that is, his son who was accused of cheating in Hyderabad, got him bail and brought him to Karnataka and made him stay in his own house, gave him a room in the (office of the) Karnataka Lokayukta and allowed him to blackmail officers who were suspected to be corrupt. I am told he used to call people over the phone and say: "If you don't give me so much money I will see the Lokayukta raids you".
Many of (those called his son) are supposed to have paid. There is an interim report by a police officer. It is extortion. It is not a simple case of receiving a bribe or something (like that). It was like dacoity... This is how people in power were trying to destroy the institution of the Lokayukta.
Then, in 2014, they (meaning, the state government) tried to take away the power of grievance redressal... which fortunately came to the public domain and people started protesting against it. So they dropped the idea. Then, in 2016,without (any) discussion either in the (state) assembly or within the political system .They created an ACB (Anti Corruption Bureau ) and transferred the powers of fighting ....corruption (to it). What does that indicate? It definitely indicates that people who are in power, whether it's A party or B party, they do not want the Lokayukta, because the Lokayukta is an institution which fights against them and their misdeeds. Every effort was made to the reduce the powers of the Lokayukta...by bringing Bhaskara Rao they wanted to make it (weak). People will not repose confidence in that institution. This was an effort by the people in power. And today, the Lokayukta was attacked by a person who was a complainant in a case and he was stabbed many times. We find that the Lokayukta has sent seven letters (to the state government over a period of) three years saying the security in the offices of the Lokayukta (was inadequate)...this was a very serious issue. The missing metal detectors not working .The government didn't even bother to look into that or (send in a) reply... At 1.30 pm, a stabbing incident takes place and at 4 o'clock they bring a new metal detector and put it there.
Paranjoy: In other words you're saying that the Karnataka government has systematically weakened this institution.
Santosh Hegde: Not only the present political party in power but the previous BJP ... did the same thing by appointing Bhaskara Rao as Lokayukta.
Paranjoy : My last question to you. You have participated in the movement against corruption which was led by Anna Hazare, India Against Corruption. You still are on good terms with him. Do you believe civil society, ordinary citizens... people like you and people like Anna Hazare can still can do something, to make even make a small dent against this kind of widespread corruption in public life in India?
Justice Hegde: I was confident that when the Anna movement was at its peak... I have travelled all over India and have seen the response of the people...how much respect they had for Anna- ji,(how they)...listened to the speeches of Anna-ji and others who were there in our group...(they) gave us a lot of hope that maybe, society will change. It was mostly the middle class people who used to participate in these proceedings. I think we did make a small mistake (but) ... it became a big mistake in the end. We started speaking about it only in the metropolitan cities and didn't go to the district level, the taluka level and other rural areas. This type of participation has a fatigue factor. Middle class people can't come every time there is a protest....they have their own personal difficulties, they have their work... So in that process I think we lost some of supporters. The biggest damage was the creation of a political party (about) which I am very unhappy with... I think many things Anna-ji expected to happen... didn't happen. This is one thing I don't think he ever expected to happen.
Paranjoy: Thank you so much. Justice Santosh Hegde for coming here and giving us your time and expressing yourself so candidly....