Is the Minister no longer the boss?

Bangalore Oct. 22. A new trend in the Minister-civil servant relationship seems to be emerging in the State Secretariat. Observers have not failed to notice that even Ministers of Cabinet rank wait in front of the offices of a few IAS officers, giving the lie to the dictum that the Minister is the boss.

An officer, who receives deferential treatment from Ministers, is K. Jairaj, the high profile Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister, S.M. Krishna. Mr. Jairaj, till recently, also held another post, that of Vice-Chairman of the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation.

Over the years, the holder of the office of Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister has come to overshadow some of the other once important secretarial posts such as Development Commissioner and Principal Secretary for Finance. It was when the present Chief Secretary, B.S. Patil, was the Principal Secretary to the former Chief Minister, the late J.H. Patel, that the post came to be considered as a "parallel power centre". Observers recall the talk of the power centres in the Secretariat in the early 1970s led by the then Chief Secretary, R.J. Rebello, and the then Development Commissioner, G.V.K. Rao.

A similar question is now being raised with regard to the office of the Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister. Mr. Jairaj is the third holder of the office after Mr. Krishna became the Chief Minister. His predecessors were Chiranjeevi Singh and S.V. Ranganath.

It is observed that whether Mr. Krishna is present in the Vidhana Soudha or not, there is a constant flow of people who matter in and out of the chambers of Mr. Jairaj. That they call on him might also speak of his affability and popularity.

Even Cabinet Ministers queue up in front of his chambers seeking his "good offices, advice, or guidance" on matters of importance. It is said that files pertaining to their departments or works in their constituencies are discussed in his chambers by the Ministers concerned before being submitted to the Chief Minister, so that there is no problem in getting the latter's approval.

Recently, many eyebrows were raised when the Urban Development Minister, D.K. Shivakumar, was seen going to Mr. Jairaj's chambers for a lengthy discussion. Around the same time, the Minister of State for Cooperation, M. Diwakar Babu, was also there. A few days earlier, the Housing Minister, C.R. Sagir Ahmed, was seen waiting outside Mr. Jairaj's chamber. Barring some senior and a few middle-rung Ministers, most others visit him in his chambers.

However, the issue is not one of who is supreme, but one of protocol.

The veteran journalist, C.M. Ramachandra, recalls an incident involving the late H.C. Dasappa, Finance Minister in the K.C. Reddy Ministry, and the then Chief Secretary, K. Srinivasan, an MCS officer. Dasappa was given to frequently summoning officers to his chambers. Fed up with this, the Chief Secretary told the Minister to come to his chambers if he wanted.

The former Chief Secretary and Bharatinagar MLA, J. Alexander, has a different approach. He recalls that Rambhao Potdar was the Belgaum APMC Chairman when he was the Chief Marketing Officer. Mr. Potdar used to call on him then. After becoming a Minister, he entered the chambers of Mr. Alexander in the Vidhana Soudha only to be reminded that it was against administrative etiquette. Mr. Alexander also recalls that the former Union Minister, C.M. Ibrahim, was a non-official member of the BDA when he was the Commissioner. But, later when Mr. Ibrahim became the Labour Minister, he greeted Mr. Alexander with a deferential "Sir". Mr. Alexander reminded him that their roles had been reversed.

There are also those who remember the heated exchange between the former Minister of State for Sports and Youth Affairs, Premachandra Sagar, and A. Ravindra, Principal Secretary to the then Chief Minister, M. Veerappa Moily, in the latter's presence. Dr. Sagar, who was having a heated discussion with Mr. Moily over the allocation of funds to his department, got annoyed when Dr. Ravindra made some remarks supporting the Chief Minister. This led to an argument between them with Dr. Sagar demanded an apology from Dr. Ravindra on the ground that as a Minister, he was the Government and Dr. Ravindra was only a "servant". Dr Sagar resigned in a huff over the issue.

Mr. Alexander is of the view that in a democracy, the Ministers are superior and the officers should keep that in mind.

Mr. Ramachandra says that Ministers should not make it a habit to go to the chambers of the bureaucrats, as that will have a demoralising effect on legislators and even the general public. According to him, it is time that the Chief Minister advised his Ministers to uphold democratic and administrative traditions.

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