In a major legal triumph for BJP state strongman BS Yeddyurappa, the Karnataka High Court today declared as "bad in law" a chapter in the Lokayukta report that indicted him on illegal mining causing his exit as chief minister and quashed the FIR against him based on it.
The court also set aside the sanction given by Governor HR Bhardwaj to prosecute Yeddyurappa and quashed the Lokayukta Police FIR holding, "There is no case which is made out against Yeddyurappa under provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act or any other law."
The relief for Yeddyurappa, which is likely to spur him to make a renewed bid for reinstatement as chief minister, came in the order pronounced by a division bench comprising justices K Bhakstavatsala and K Govindarajulu on his petition challenging the FIR and the governor's sanction.
The court quashed Chapter 22 of the Lokayukta report on illegal mining, which had indicted him of committing various acts of omission and commission to favour a mining firm on the basis of which the FIR was filed.
The report on illegal mining submitted by then Lokayukta Santosh Hegde last July had caused a political turmoil for the first ever BJP government in the south, culminating in the exit of Yeddyurappa under pressure from the party central leadership which had taken on the UPA on corruption.
The court observed that the chapter 22 was "bad in law" and did not indicate any favours shown by Yeddyurappa as the chief minister to any mining company.
The chapter had referred to donation of Rs 10 crore by South West Mining Company to Prerana Trust, owned and managed by Yeddyurappa's family members, and also the purchase of 1.20 acres by the same firm for Rs 20 crore from his kin. It had opined that these payments were made by the firm to seek official favours.
The contents of the chapter, the court observed, did not constitute commission of any offence by Yeddyurappa and others.
It also ruled that the prosecution was against the principles of natural justice and upheld the contention of Yeddyurappa that the proceedings were launched against him without giving him an opportunity to provide an explanation.
"Satyameva Jayate. By the blessings of god and people, I have got justice from court," said Yeddyurappa, with relief writ large on his face.
The BJP leader said he always had great respect and faith in the judiciary which had been vindicated and added, "I have got justice from the judiciary."
The Lokayukta police said they would move the Supreme Court challenging the high court order.
Yeddurappa expressed hope that the BJP high command would take a decision on his political future, indicating revival of his campaign for a suitable position.
The court relief for Yeddyurappa could not have come at a better time as he was only recently snubbed by party President Nitin Gadkari during a meeting for his renewed bid to regain chief ministership.
Yeddyurappa, who has of late been mounting intense pressure for a comeback, was plainly told by Gadkari that he has to clear himself of the corruption charges.
However, he ruled out visiting Delhi to meet the BJP top brass to stake a fresh claim.
The bench in its order took objection to the manner in which Yeddyurappa was indicted without giving him an opportunity to explain his version.
"The petitioner was condemned unheard and there is flagrant violation of principles of natural justice, fairness in administrative action and statutory provision", the judges opined.
"In a nut shell, there is no material placed on record to establish that the petitioner has shown any official favour to the companies", the judges observed.
The court refused to accept the contention of Lokayukta that its report on illegal mining was based on Dr U V Singh Report, a top forest official who had investigated it on earlier occasion, observing that "we hold that the report of Lokayukta is also not within the scope of reference made to it by the Government".
Finding fault with methodology adopted for the probe by Lokayukta, the court noted "the scheme of Lokayukta Act does not deal with public interest matters. It is bound to follow principles of natural justice. There is no material produced by the Lokayukta to establish that the petitioner has done any favour to any of the alleged companies during the period 2007 to 2010".
"Suspicion cannot be a ground to tarnish the image and reputation of a person who is holding a Constitutional post. Even during the course of argument, a specific question was put to Lokayukta counsel to produce any material to connect the petitioner for alleged offences, but he was mum", the order stated.
The bench also disagreed with the contention of the Lokayukta that since he has not given any direction to the petitioner to vacate his office and therefore question of giving him an opportunity of hearing did not arise.
"It holds no water as the petitioner was chief minister when the report was leaked through media", the court said observing a lot of dust was created in political circle and on moral grounds, the petitioner resigned as chief minister.