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Karnataka government in a fix over illegal mining report

The illegal mining report of the Karnataka Lokayukta (ombudsman) that forced B.S. Yeddyurappa to quit as the Bharatiya Janata Party's first chief minister in south India is becoming a hot potato for his successor D.V. Sadananda Gowda.

The Gowda cabinet faces a tough task as a departmental probe says it has found no evidence to support the Lokayukta findings that 191 police officers had taken bribes to allow illegal mining.

The then Lokayukta N. Santosh Hegde, a former Supreme Court judge, in his report in July last year, indicted over 600 officials from police, revenue, transport, forest and mining departments. He had named many and others were identified by designation.

Deputy Commissioner of Police (Intelligence) V.S. D'Souza, whom the Gowda government had asked to study Hegde's findings on the 191 police officials, has said in his report that there was no evidence to take action against them.

Contents of the report, submitted in late November last year, have been unofficially released to the media.

Hegde had taken strong objection to the Gowda government asking "a junior police officer" to review of the report submitted by a "retired Supreme Court judge". He has been saying that review of his findings were a mere ruse to bury the report itself.

D'Souza said he was not suggesting that the police officers did not take bribe. But the evidence in Lokayukta report was not adequate to launch criminal action against these officers, he said.

A government spokesman told IANS that no decision has been taken on the D'Souza report. "It is still being studied. It is only a preliminary finding by D'Souza. Further probe may be needed before a final decision."

The Gowda government had also set up another panel of officials to review Hegde's findings on officials from revenue, forest, transport and mining departments.

That panel headed by Additional Secretary K. Jairaj had in October last year recommended action against 417 officials of the over 600 named by Hegde. Of the remaining, the panel could not establish identity in the case of over 150 as they were identified by the designation. The probe was on in the case of the remaining.

The Gowda cabinet accepted the Jairaj panel's findings and has sought responses from the 417 officials before proceeding further.

The Lokayukta has been headless since Sept 19 after Hegde's successor Shivaraj V.Patil quit over a house sites row.

Governor H. R. Bhardwaj has refused to accept Gowda government's recommendation to appoint S. R. Bannurmath, a former Kerala high court chief justice, as he too is caught in similar row.

Bhardwaj has said the government was insisting on Bannurmath as it "wants to whitewash the crimes" of some people held guilty by Hegde.

The D'Souza report doubting the evidence in Hegde's report against the 191 police officials will only to the bitter row over the former Lokayukta's findings and naming a new Lokayukta.

Hegde has been challenging the government to reject his report if it has the courage, instead of setting up review committees on his findings.

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