What can we learn from the Karnataka Lokayukta’s performance?

The first working paper from Azim Premji Univ (written way back in 2011 though). It is written by Narayana A., Sudhir Krishnaswamy, and Vikas Kumar.

They look at lessons from Karnataka Lokayukt for help in design of Lokpal Bill (though the bill is almost dead and one never knows when it will come up):

In this working paper we hope to bring new insights to this debate by engaging with law in action. Over the last six months, researchers at the Azim Premji University’s Law and Governance Initiative examined a comprehensive data set of all raid and trap cases handled by Karnataka’s Lokayukta between 1995 and 2011. This data was obtained under the Right to Information Act, 2005. While our final analysis and conclusions will follow shortly, we hope to contribute to the present debates with our preliminary findings through this working paper. Our analysis suggests that the policy debate on the Lokpal has focussed on issues that have been anticipated and largely resolved by existing legislation and institutional design of the Lokayukta in, say, Karnataka and has ignored critical issues that may have little or nothing to do with the design of the Lokpal itself but affect its performance. We conclude that a bill that does not assimilate the experience of existing anti-corruption agencies in states like Karnataka is doomed to fail. Rest of the discussion is organized around discrete themes that have been highlighted in the current Lokpal debate.


As the discussion above shows, if we use criminal conviction as the measure of success then the best Lokayukta in the country is undoubtedly a failure. But a caveat is in order: the Lokayukta does not administratively control the criminal court. Hence, we should attribute this failure to the choice of a criminal conviction model as the centrepiece of our anticorruption strategy.

Alternatively, we may assess the performance of the Lokayukta by estimating its political and symbolic impact. While we do not have data to systematically evaluate the function of Karnataka Lokayukta, may be the Lokayukta’s capacity to occupy media attention through the spectacle of the raid and through high profile investigations into politically charged cases that have unseated a Chief Minister, shifted the public mood and enhanced political accountability, could be counted as significant successes.However, we should not overstate these effects because the ruling party’s candidates have routinely won most by-elections to the Karnataka Legislative Assembly in the recent past.

A third potential measure of success of the Lokayukta as an anti-corruption agency may be its capacity to initiate and affect administrative measures against officials, including recovery of  damages. At this stage we do not have the data to estimate or assess these effects and this will be the emphasis for future research. A final assessment of the Lokayukta in Karnataka would need a more fully developed normative framework for assessment. However, even at this stage we may conclude that the Lokayukta fails to achieve its primary purpose: the criminal conviction of corrupt officials.

So what lessons for Lokpal?

The presumption of a criminal conviction model is at the core of the Lokpal Bill, whichmeans that it will come up against the same environmental limits – the efficacy of the criminal justice system – that the Lokayukta in Karnataka confronts. Without highly contentious legal reforms, an extremely powerful agency, which the Jan Lokpal Bill promises to establish, can at best marginally improve investigation rates and filing of charge sheet in corruption cases without securing more convictions. The proposal for the Lokpal at the moment fails to address this core problem and for that reason is bound to fail to achieve its primary purpose: the criminal conviction of corrupt officials.

Hmm…Well politicians will always have the final say. What looks like a powerful autonomous body mostly turns out to be toothless against political wishes…Let’s see what happens to National Lokpal bill..


One Response to “What can we learn from the Karnataka Lokayukta’s performance?”

  1. appointment to the post of Lokayukta or Upa Lokayukta – whether the views expressed by the Chief Justice of the High Court of Karnataka has got primacy while making appointment to the post of Lokayukta or Upa Lokayukta by the Governor of Karnataka i Says:

    […] What can we learn from the Karnataka Lokayukta’s performance? (mostlyeconomics.wordpress.com) […]

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