Rajvir Pratap Sharma, head of BMTF (Bangalore Metropolitan Task Force), has been in the news recently for taking on the state government. While Sharma acted in accordance to BMTF’s powers, against BBMP officers who permitted unauthorised constructions, the state government had tried to transfer him.
Government first tried to bring BMTF under BBMP, then there were the BBMP officers who went on strike asking for Sharma’s removal. Finally, Sharma was accused of constructing an illegal building, and government ordered his transfer based on this, in August.
Sharma challenged the order in CAT (Central Administrative Tribunal), and won. CAT rapped the government for trumping up charges against Sharma, revoked his transfer order, and ordered the government to support BMTF in its work.
But this is not the first time that Sharma has taken on the system. He had gone to CAT and courts earlier pointing out corruption and irregularities. He has also championed many reforms within the police, such as introduction of tourist police in Mysore, creating a vision document for the state police etc.
A 1987 batch IPS officer, Sharma is a medical and law graduate. He has won the President Police Medal, and specialises in forensic science and crisis intervention.
Citizen Matters interviewed 52-year-old Sharma in his office recently. Here are the excerpts:
Why did you to take up this fight? Was it worth it?
The oath that public servants take when they join duty is that they will discharge their duty with utmost devotion. Public servants are not expected to have a struggle-free life – they will come across resistance and opposition. And if it stops them, the outcome is that they are not performing their duty.
If you don’t beam a silver line in the darkness, there will be very little for people to have confidence in the system. Lack of confidence makes people use illegal methods to achieve their goals. For eg., delaying disposal of civil disputes is one of the important causes of land mafia coming up in cities.
But hasn’t the recent episode in CAT been difficult for you?
I’ll say that it has been a busy time for me, not difficult. If your pride and honour is protected in a judicial forum, it helps people have faith in the system.
What does your family think? Do they think a quiet retirement is better?
My wife is an IAS officer with state government, and is very supportive. She is Commissioner at the Department of Sericulture. I have two daughters – one is studying law in Mission Law School, and the other is in 10th standard. My elder daughter, especially, says that I should be more proactive, and that as a family we will collectively bear the consequences. My family has never asked me, even a single day, as to why I am doing this.
There has not been much explicit public support when government gave you the transfer order.
Where I should have gotten support is from CAT, and I got it from there. Seeking public support is not appropriate for a public servant. It is not permitted in service rules. I don’t expect or seek such support.
There have been cases of honest officers moving out of civil service because they find it difficult to fight the system from within; your comment.
It depends on when your energy exhausts. Some people are made of lesser capacity, and some more. I am not going to quit – I have nine years left and will carry forward. There are lot of safeguards in a system that can be used. In my case, I have always got timely promotions and placements despite the actions I’ve taken. It should set an example that even if you stand up against corruption, you will still get your due, even though there may be some inconvenience.
Any instances where you went against your senior officers to expose corruption?
When I was the Karnataka nodal officer for National Human Rights Commission, I filed a report against my own senior officer, for unjust interference. This officer was the DG&IGP under whom I was working. Another was when I summoned Minister Ashoka recently to BMTF. There are other instances, but the ones in BMTF became well-known because of the strike, transfer etc.
I have also taken up many service-related issues in CAT, and using RTI. Details of many of these are available online. One such case was on deputation of officers to Commonwealth Games. Another officer was deputed instead of me, violating the service conditions for deputation, to favour that person. I took up the issue in CAT, and CAT fined the Cabinet Secretary Rs 25,000. For me, it was not about the fine. I had filed the case as an aggrieved officer, but the intent was to bring out the irregularity so that everyone will benefit. Someone has to take the lead to fight such cases.
Now your question might be why I am being targeted always. That’s because I take up issues. I don’t take a shorter path. When I was transferred from BMTF, I could have bargained for a better post. That’s not difficult. But tools like RTI are there for us to use.
How is BMTF’s performance now?
Now we get some 50 complaints daily, that is 1000-1200 cases per month. But we only have a staff of 15 to hold inquiries. I tell people to forgive the delays. Building an organisation is a tough task. But I can take credit, that I have given a second lease of life to BMTF. It has caused people to believe that government organisations can carry the motto of service delivery despite all odds. What I am saying may be exaggerated – but I think that people trust us. Even when I say that there may be delays, people say “that’s ok, but will you do it?” This shows their faith in us.
What is the status of the cases that you are investigating now?
We are investigating about 200 cases overall. Of these 40-50 are chargesheeted, all of them in the last 4-6 months. Most of them are BBMP officers, some cases are under KIADB Act and Land Revenue Act. Cases are going on in CMM (Chief Metropolitan Magistrate) court, and are proceeding in expected pace. Some accused have gone to the High Court and gotten a stay on the case proceedings. These are ex-parte stay orders, where stay was given before the hearings. Such stay is not linked to the merits of the case, but are granted for other reasons.
Can you name some major cases you are handling now?
We are investigating two major cases. One is that of BDA selling government land to public without acquiring it. BDA can allot only those revenue lands that it has acquired first. This is a 15-year old case, and we are close to completing investigation. And the second is that of BDA and BBMP giving permission to construct a structure above a stormwater drain
Why does BMTF not take action against public who collude with govt officers to construct illegal buildings?
There are two issues – public violating the law by illegal construction, and second, that of public servants permitting this. We have no authority over the first part, but only the second. If you correct the cause or effect of either part, you can get outcomes. There are some newspaper reports now saying that BBMP officers have started issuing notices to owners of illegal buildings. If we can bring about actions like these, then we have achieved some of our goals. It’s too early to analyse the impact of our actions though.BMTF does not have powers to demolish buildings like BBMP and BDA. Building violations are mentioned in Section 462 and 321 of KMC Act. Both of these are not penal provisions, but are civil liability clauses under which a property can be demolished. We have no power to act under civil laws. Legislature has to amend the law for us to take action against individual building violations.
Section 321B is the provision on which we can act; also, Section 192A of Karnataka Land Grabbing Act. We can only take action against officers who don’t take action, and also against land grabbers. Building violations and land encroachment cannot be equated.
When you were posted to BMTF, did you know that the organisation was defunct?
Many of my friendly colleagues had been posted here earlier and I had interacted with them. So I had a limited knowledge about the organisation. When I took charge, I said that we should be proactive and people-friendly. The first thing we did was to launch our own website.
Unfortunately BMTF earlier used to live not only in BBMP building, but also in the shadow of BBMP. Its wider mandate was hardly known to BBMP. We wanted to make everyone realise what our duty charter was. Second, we wanted to perform as per that, and not as per the wishes of vested interests, as was done earlier.
But did you think that your skills would be wasted in an organisation like BMTF?
No. I was earlier posted as IG (Public Grievance). Many people used to think that this position was for solving our grievance rather than that of public; that was how it was functioning. But during my tenure, the department’s utility went up so much, that now ADGPs are being posted to head that department.
Also, when I was IG (Planning and Modernisation), I created a Vision 2020 for Karnataka state police. When I was IG (Southern Range) in Mysore in 2007, there was Cauvery issue, but I managed it so that there was not even a stone pelting incident in entire five districts. It’s not about where you go, it’s about what you do. So when I came here, I knew that BMTF would soon become known to people.
What are your future plans?
I have three plans for BMTF – one, we should have a separate building. Second, we should have an advisory role in the functioning of organisations like BBMP and BDA. Currently we have only prosecution power; the advisory role should be defined by government. Third is the growth of BMTF as per requirement. Currently the problem is too big, and the organisation too small. We have already informed the government about these requirements.⊕