Here’s a small quiz: Who are the following individuals and what’s common among them? Latha Krishna Rao, P B Ramamurthy, Gaurav Gupta, M S Ravishankar, Anjum Parvez, T M Vijay Bhaskar
Someone who has been following public affairs in Karnataka would know that they are all IAS officers of the Karnataka cadre. But very few people are likely to know that they all held the position of Chairperson of the BWSSB (Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board) from 2007 to present.
So that is six officers over a period of eight years, which gives an average of about 16 months per officer. A study on a much wider range of IAS officers across the country, by researchers at Harvard University in the US found the same rate of transfers to be widely true. Dr. Asit Biswas, an internationally renowned water scholar, had identified frequent transfers of water utility heads and political interference as major reasons for the poor state of urban water supply and sanitation in many countries.
The underlying reasons are not hard to find. How well would you do at your job if you changed it every eighteen months or so? And changed not just between companies in the same industry but between entirely different sectors (first in IT say, the next in Agriculture and then in the Police). Not very well would be the obvious answer. There would not be sufficient time to understand the sector and start doing something useful. There would not be sufficient time to develop good relationships with colleagues and subordinates which are so important to achieve something substantial as a group.
Change of officials affects projects
Think about people working at the BWSSB, who have to deal with this regular and steady procession of bosses. Each boss has his or her own idiosyncrasies and styles of management. When the boss keeps changing, there would not be much opportunity for your good suggestions to be implemented and good work to be recognized. So there is not much incentive to perform. Or maybe you would start looking for ‘other’ ways to get promoted or do well.
New BWSSB projects go through several review committees before they can go for tendering and be implemented. When the Chairperson of the BWSSB change frequently, these projects often go back to square one. Long unnecessary delays result and costs escalate. Some good projects even get cancelled.
Right now, BWSSB is in the process of implementing several large wastewater treatment plants. If these plants run well, Bengaluru will be able to treat and reuse most of its wastewater for industrial and other users, saving our precious freshwater for drinking and domestic use. The pollution of our rivers, lakes and groundwaters from untreated wastewater will be vastly reduced.
Another set of BWSSB projects is looking to reduce the amount of fresh water that leaks out of pipes before it reaches our homes. It is estimated that more than 40% of the water supply meets this fate. What a waste! If these two initiatives are successful, the days of water scarcity may well be a thing of the past for Bangalore. But these projects are complex and success is not at all assured. Committed and competent leadership at both the political and bureaucratic level is needed to make these initiatives successful.
Enough of these transfers! We have not realised the extent of damage that these frequent transfers do to our public institutions. Let us as individuals, communities and NGOs pay more attention to the way the heads of our public organisations get shuttled around. Vijay Bhaskar, the current Chairman, has earned a reputation as a seasoned and clean officer. Let us insist on having him in office until atleast the end of this government’s tenure. Let us then extend him all co-operation for the successful implementation of these projects.