The people speak on Subramanya’s transfer

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On 25 June 2007, the erstwhile Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy handpicked the new Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) Commissioner, S Subramanya. Circa 2009. Unable to trace the body of a 6-year-old who apparently fell into a storm water drain and a defamation case against Lok Ayukta Santhosh Hegde, Subramanya gets transferred, apparently after causing much embarrassment to the BJP government.

Is it justified to hold Subramanya responsible for the death of Abhishek? Should he have done the work of a drain inspector? Was the transfer an answer to the problems of the public? Citizen Matters has also received claims (uncorroborated at this time) that Subramanya was transferred for other reasons. That apart, and now that he is gone, will the BBMP do better, under the reins of the new Commissioner?

Citizen Matters spoke to representatives of citizens groups and other individuals who have interacted both with the BBMP and the former commissioner himself at various points. Here is what they have to say:

Anil Kumar, member, KRIA Katte, a Right to Information user group

I have interacted with previous Commissioners. Whenever we meet, we have got patient hearings and the commissioners gave instructions for action to their people. This has happened for K Jairaj, Srinivasa Murthy, Jothiramalingam, and others.

This commissioner (S Subramanya) gives an appointment to meet us at 3.30 pm but the meeting never happens on time. He makes people wait for an hour and when he meets, he merely spends 2 minutes with the citizens and says the “I will look into it” and ends the meeting. This has happened 3-4 times.

BBMP Commissioner's transfer, S Subramanya's transfer

Former Commissioner S Subramanya with citizens (pic: Pranav Jha)

Earlier commissioners used to interact with residents and also this helped because they knew that engineers at the ward level would sometimes given the wrong picture and direct interactions with citizens used to be their feedback system.Meena has said he will be interacting with citizens regularly.

(Are transfers a means to quell resentment among the public) Governments are not able to hold officials like him (Subramanya) accountable for the Abhishek Jain episode — because that is how our system is setup. He did not visit the spot in the pubic eye and act immediately.

Vinay Sreenivasa, Volunteer, Hasiru Usiru

It’s good that administrators are held accountable for the insensitive way in which issues are handled. It is not just about the kid falling in the drain, the rashness and arrogance with which it was handled was bad. There was a lack of sensitivity towards citizens. Some of the decisions he took were not popular like 3000 trees that are going to be cut at UAS. When the aggrieved people approached him, he said I can do what I want. He wasn’t approachable. Under Subramanya, there was hardly any attempt to inform/involve the public – especially with regards to big projects like road widening, etc. This insensitivity towards the public has been a big problem under his administration. Bureaucrats should not arrogate themselves to powers to implement projects without an elected body approving it. Magic boxes didn’t work well at all. Maybe the transfer is a result of all these actions.

(On whether a transfer is the way to hold him accountable) That’s a governance question on which there needs to be a larger debate. Bureaucrats are there to implement decisions of the Executive and the will of the people and the fact is that BBMP is an implementing agency, not a planning agency.

 

Leo Saldanha, Environment Support Group

Dr Subramanya has been administratively effective, perhaps. But his style has been largely reported as arrogant. In the absence of an elected Council, it was a wrong choice to have a person like Subramanya as commissioner, as he also had to deal with the organisation requirement of interacting with the wide public – which was his weak point. Early in his term, some of us who went to him representing a public cause had a very rough experience with his abrasive style of functioning. We reported this matter to the Dept of Personnel and Administrative Reforms, but they failed to initiate appropriate action. Had they taken steps then, they could have protected Dr Subramanya the embarassing departure he has experience. Clearly he was the wrong choice for this job.

Transfers are widely abused for politically expedient gains. Unfortunately in the current system there are no checks and balances. Often good officers are punished with transfers to ‘punishment’ posts. In the instant case, the transfer was imperative given that Dr. Subramanya was simply not suited for this task. Unfortunately, Dr Subramanya’s style of functioning and tenure coincided with a period in the history of Bangalore’s civic administration which was highly undemocratic.

Major Pramod Kapur, Member, Save Koramangala

My personal experience with the corporation during his tenure was very good. Every time I approached any officials they were very cooperative and responsible. But I also felt that Subramanya was closed to suggestions from citizens. There was so much chaos over open drains and his claims about his workers doing a perfect job, but on the ground nothing was being done. Eventually, this led to his transfer but even now on the ground nothing is being done. What do we do about that? On top of that, transfer is no solution to holding officers accountable. This age-old practice has never given positive results. The whole system itself is not in place. Today one Subramanya is transferred and one (Bharat Lal) Meena comes, but will this system change? No. Unless there is a total revival of the system and the commissioner carries forward the idea to bring a definite change. Also it is very tough for one man to bring about a change.

Others questioned the basis on which the transfer was made. “Do we know the exact reason for his transfer?”, asked some.

Pranav Jha, A founding member at www.praja.in

We understand that these transfers happen because of the whims and fancies, and decisions of those in power. While these people equation aspects are unavoidable, we all wish that these transfer and appointment decisions were based on performance which could be constantly tracked by the public. He is not personally responsible for what happened. What if we had a data-driven way of seeing why he didn’t fit the job? It’s bad for us that performances of public officers are all perception-based. While the transfer is a big deal, the focus should be on what needs to be done and why is it that he couldn’t do the job. There is no real analysis on what the new commissioner needs to do to fix the problem. Nobody is talking about that, not even the media. Will the new Commissioner have targets and goals with deadlines that public can track so that the next transfer order is made on the basis of measurable performance and not because we required a community scapegoat?

H B S Aradhya, Former Deputy Commissioner (Revenue), BBMP

He was good in taking decisions, whether they were good or bad, he took immediate decisions. Initiative was there. He didn’t bother about quality.

He was successful in implementing SAS and Capital Value System. There was a lot of initiative for developmental works like flyover, magic box. He was good in taking decisions. He was able to get amendments through the government.But everybody has to be transferred; he can’t be with the BBMP forever. Two years is a big period for a commissioner.

(On the Abhishek case) Commissioner cannot be held responsible for this. But he shouldn’t have made a case against the Lokayukta (Justice Santosh Hegde). He should have replied to him by meeting him and explaining things. Like I said, he took immediate decisions and that’s what happened here. That is not correct. But he is not accountable for the storm water drain case. Due to his actions and speeches, he was transferred. It isn’t an odd time to be transferred. It was expected.

N S Mukunda, Convenor, Citizens Action Forum, PadmanabhanagarI think it is a good thing that he got transferred. I have not interacted with him as much, but he did not even bother to care for citizens’ views and suggestions. I felt his remarks on Abhishek’s drowning were very insensitive. He was equally callous with citizens. However I feel these transfers are not a solution for any radical change, these are just cosmetic shifts which will bring no difference to the system.

And some others felt it’s the future that needs to be focused on.

Cheryl Rebello, Communications Coordinator, Janaagraha

We had a good and healthy relationship. He looked at issues from a citizen’s perspective. For us priority is to get these issues moving ahead. We work with so many people everyday. We can’t be disappointed each time a person gets transferred. Reacting on such transfers is trivial. The next person should pick up with the same steam and fervour. Reacting to all this is unimportant. Our focus is on issues.

The BBMP employees themselves were all praises for Subramanya, reminding us of the various flyovers he built, the magic box underpass he brought to Bangalore, and retention of the old SAS values for property tax calculation.

Babu, General Secretary, Bangalore City Corporation Workers Federation Dandu Pradesha

It is not like he hasn’t done any work. He has worked. They are only blaming him. We have all done a lot of work with regard to searching for this little boy. It’s a doubt if this boy has even fallen in a drain. It’s all a lie. The parents have got so much money from the Palike. There are a lot of problems in the city. That does not mean you can blame the commissioner for everything. If a BMTC bus is involved in an accident, will you transfer the BMTC Commissioner? The chief minister himself has said that the commissioner has done good work.

K T Nagaraj, Working President, BBMP Employees Central Association

He was very good. He has brought tremendous changes. It has been two years. He has done a kind of reinvention. He made signal free roads. He widened Race Course road. He introduced the magic box which is a fast process and low cost. It is an immediate solution. After he came, Bangalore was expanded to 800 sq km. He maintained this area with the same number of people in the BBMP. That’s not an easy task. He introduced Citizen Centres or Nagarika Seva Kendras which function 24/7. If you have any complaints, you can contact them. He has maintained BBMP without collecting property tax for 10.5 months. He introduced the GPS for garbage trucks. The (city) corporation is saving about Rs.20 – 25 crores because of this. These trucks are regularly monitored.

As a government official, you will get transferred.

Subramanya is out, Bharat Lal Meena is in. Will the new commissioner deliver to Bangaloreans what the former is believed to have failed to do? As Meena has begun work on inspecting flood-prone areas of the city, Subramanya takes charge as the Principal Secretary of the Agriculture department, far from the BBMP.

About Vaishnavi Vittal 139 Articles
Vaishnavi Vittal is a Bangalore-based journalist.

6 Comments

  1. In an obverse situation, He would have hauled Subramanaya for attempt. this is against principle of Natural Justice.

    This should have been:

    In an obverse situation, He would have hauled Subramanaya for contempt. This is against principle of Natural Justice.

    I appreciate if the Editors can carryout the correction in the original post instead of publishing this post axiomatically !

  2. It was unfortunate subramanaya had to go. He was a honest and hardworking commissioner. In the short time he was in charge he changed the face of the city. Though Magic Boxes were initially mocked at, soon one realized that within space constraint, Magic Boxes served its purpose. For example Traveling time to new Airport was less painful, so much so Capt. Gopinath who inaugurated his pet Skylimo project had to wind up without much ado.

    A Commissioner cannot be omni- present or omniscient to know what is happening at every nook and corner of the BBMP. Civic sense and responsibility has to imbibed by every citizen and Corporation servant. It is sad that young Abhishek had to die under extra-ordinary circumstance, but to the blame on subramanya is absurd and unfair. The failed effort by MEG showed that it was an herculean effort to find the body. constitutional authorities like Lokayukata should show some maturity while speaking in public and cannot denigrate Public servants -just because they cannot retaliate. In an obverse situation, He would have hauled Subramanaya for attempt. this is against principle of Natural Justice.

  3. blame cant be put on a single person,it shud be also put on the incharge of the area where the kid got drowned ,they shud be accountabily in every dept,so it will put in fear,that if you dont do your work,u will loose your job

    sadly its not just bangalore ,most of the indian cities have bad infrastructure

    drop the lazy attitude
    and work for clean and green city

  4. The job of the Commissioner of the BBMP is akin to that of the Chief Secretary to the GOK , with the Council giving directions and the Commissioner executing it. In the absence of the elected body – in gross violation of the constitution – the Commissioner behaves like a king, accountable to no one , arrogant and generally behaving like a dictator.
    This one got his come-uppence because he became a political embarrassment to the state.
    Unless we get our democratic governance model right, with elected and accountable, representatives and a bureaucracy reporting to the elected body , we will continue to debate futile and trivial issues such as the one in the article.

  5. Its just that our government is being reasonable all the times. They just cannot be unreasonable while convincing citizens on what exactly happened. Ofcourse someone who is authoritative should take the responsibility for whatever happened to represent the organizational leadership and commitment to the society.

    There was a good reason to transfer Subramanya. However, there are many people including very assertive IAS officers who did a great job but still ended up getting transferred. The reason is “they were very good and they listened to people for societal developments”. I have experienced it during our village developement activities. I have seen good leaders getting transferred every 3 months.

    So transferring an official in government setup really doesnt make sense. It is just to prove to the people that they react to the situation. But in this case, the new commissioner will need to certainly work aggressively towards closing the opened issue! She will get transferred to someother department either ways! lets wait and see what will she be doing.

    Thanks for sharing this article and good to see many representatives speaking for the cause. Good job by both of you!

  6. In organizations where there is clear accountability, the buck stops at the top man – in this case Subramanya’s organization screwed up and has been screwing up big time and he should have been fired – but fortunately for him, he is safe being a beurocrat.

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