Slack babus? You can’t paint all of us with the same brush: TM Vijay Bhaskar

Often, public representatives complain that IAS/IPS officers do not use the Kannada language in administration. Meet the new chief secretary of Karnataka, T.M. Vijay Bhaskar who has successfully managed to overcome the colonial hangover of English supremacy. He not only speaks chaste Kannada, but also uses the language in official work. He is so tuned to Kannada that his festival greetings pop up in Kannada. “When we use the local language, we get closer to people, we can understand their problems better,” is his view on using Kannada. This soft spoken officer who has a spotless career, is also a no nonsense bureaucrat and tough at work.  Though he belongs to the pre-computerisation era, he reveals to Deccan Chronicle that he wants to bring in more technology to reform the system from within. Here are excerpts from his interview.

You have put in more than three decades of service. What are the major changes you can find in the field of governance?

There is a gradual improvement and changes have happened in administration. Thanks to this, we can also think of delivering programmes at the doorsteps of people. In the last three decades, the population has increased, so has the education level of citizens. One can see a rise in prosperity as a result, people expect more from the government, from basic needs to employment. When we joined service, urbanisation was low. Now issues related to urbanisation and cities are a major challenge.

You mentioned technology. The emergence of technology has ushered in a communication revolution. One of the chal lenges is its misuse. How do bureaucrats handle this challenge in governance?

We try to focus on using technology as tool to reach out to people and provide better services. There are laws to check misuse. To make people’s lives easier, to provide service at the doorsteps, to cut down delays and costs, technology is good. For instance, people used to run around to get caste and income certificates. We have reached a stage where they can download these sitting in remote places. Another important feature of technology is that it will help monitor the implementation of programmes.

In spite of reforms and adoption of new technology, a disenchantment is palpable among the public and elected representatives towards the work culture of the bureaucracy? Is it real or hyped?

I feel there is a reason for it. The capacity of the government machinery has not grown as fast as people’s expectations. For instance, in Bengaluru, people expect the government to react fast, deliver services quickly and effectively. But our systems are slow. Bureaucracy needs time to adopt new technology. Certainly there is a time lag, as a result, sometimes you can see dissatisfaction among people.

The impression among the public is that government employees are no longer committed or dedicated to their work. What is your take on this?

People can have different views. Frankly I do not see any deterioration in commitment and dedication. If you are making this observation, then there should be some empirical data to back your view. We can’t go by mere impressions. Apart from the negativity, you can see for yourself how bureaucrats function. Thirty years ago, bureaucrats used to handle probably four major programmes including drought relief, IRDP and NREP. Now, the range of programmes we handle are many and almost every department handles 10 major schemes besides routine work. Budget outlays have gone up, so have schemes.

If your point is true, why do state Assemblies and Parliament constantly witness debates on the slackening of bureaucrats’ performance?

I think it will be unfair to paint the entire bureaucracy with the same brush. When different people control different schemes, it is bound to happen. Some may not be able to match expectations. But whenever we come across lapses, we always take action.

There seems to be a new trend of senior officers being given the responsibility of two departments. Is there a shortage of IAS officers in the state? Do you want to recall some of the officers on central deputation?

Yes. Among 300 plus sanctioned posts, we have 250 IAS officers working now. In the KAS stream too, of the 590 posts, we have 330 working. Every year, we get 8-10 new IAS officers. At the top level, we have enough and at the bottom of the ladder too, we don’t have issues. We are facing a shortage in the middle-level. In the mid-nineties, for three or four years, the state got only one or two IAS officers and, I think, in one particular year we drew a blank. As far as recalling officers is concerned, it is not pragmatic. Central deputation helps them in their career. The other thing is, we can utilise their service to expedite state projects pending with the Centre.

Of late, the ruling party and its MLAs, whichever be the party in power, gets the lion’s share of budget allocation. As head of the bureaucracy, how do you think, you can handle this challenge?

I will give an example. In the RDPR department, we have funds for road repair. For long, funds were distributed at one’s discretion. I suggested changes in the norms and the then minister in charge of the department agreed. Instead of discretion, we decided to go for the ‘road length’ parameter in every constituency. Likewise, we can bring in changes wherever possible. Of course, it may not be possible in all cases.

Moving on, bureaucrats getting transfers on caste lines or through other means seems to be on the rise. Do you agree with this?

Bureaucrats are part of society and if society feels like this, we can’t be insulated. But, I have not seen people openly coming to seek transfers on caste lines. Anyway, nowhere do we mention the caste details, so I don’t think it is a big factor.

We have also been seeing extra constitutional authorities dictating terms to bureaucrats. How do you think you can handle this?

As and when the public give suggestions, we consider them. We have to keep an open mind.

The question is not about ordinary citizens. This is about powerful politicians with no constitutional authority trying to dictate terms to the bureaucracy.

Officers know how to work in the system.

Do you have any specific plan to improve the system?
 
The honourable Chief Minister has proposed in the budget an Integrated Public Grievances Redressal System which will help to improve the system. For instance, you have so many help line numbers in BBMP and BESCOM. In future, the Chief Minister has proposed that  a single system should function. If you call that number, they will route your call directly to the officer concerned. The Chief Minister has also proposed adoption of video conferencing in all districts so that the public can participate in video-conferencing with the chief minister instead of coming to Bengaluru to taking part in Janata Darshan. We want to push the e-office concept vigorously. This will help us in moving files faster. I would like to utilise modern technology tools even at the gram panchayat level so that it can help us monitor the system and provide better services. Under Sakala scheme, we have been giving more than 600 services to the public. My plan is to introduce Sakala online, so that there is contactless delivery of services. This will reduce the burden on citizens in terms of time, cost for obtaining services and also reduce the workload on staff to a great extent.

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Note from Kannada.Club :

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