KARNATAKA

New Chief Secy: Caste may have a big say

Bangalore Dec. 25. For the second time this year, the Chief Minister, S.M.Krishna, will have to select a senior IAS officer as Chief Secretary.

The incumbent, A.Ravindra, will be retiring at the end of the month after having served as head of the State's civil service for nine months.

That the Ravindra innings did not lead to the expected shake-up in the huge administrative machinery is another matter. One reason for that is the short tenure and the other, the Chief Secretary alone cannot do it. Dr. Audikeshavalu Ravindra belongs to the 1965 batch of the IAS.

The Government has before it three officers of the 1966 batch of the IAS to choose from as the successor to Dr. Ravindra. The Additional Chief Secretary to the Government, M.B.Prakash, stands first in seniority among the three. He is followed by C.Gopal Reddy, who is now serving in the Government of India, and B.S.Patil, the Development Commissioner. Of them, the first two are "regular recruitment" officers, whereas Mr. Patil was appointed to the IAS only in 1971. He was earlier a short service commission officer in the Army. In fact, the 1966 Karnataka cadre of the IAS had four other officers who were senior to the three. They were K.Bavani, who resigned from service very early in her career, N.Viswanathan, K.V.Irniraya, and Philipose Mathai (Chairman, Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission) who have retired from service.

Mr. Prakash, Mr. Gopal Reddy, and Mr. Patil have wide experience in civil service, though the political executive in the State (Congress or Janata Dal) has appointed the last named to some high profile posts. Mr. Patil was Principal Secretary to the former Chief Minister, J.H.Patel, and was for long Principal Secretary for Industries and Commerce. Similarly, Mr. Gopal Reddy had a long tenure as Principal Secretary for Finance. Mr. Patil also has better political connections and he is the brother of the Congress MP for Bagalkot, R.S.Patil, and the Congress MLA for Ron, G.S.Patil.

Before his appointment as Additional Chief Secretary, Mr. Prakash was the Principal Secretary for Home. An advantage he holds over the other two, is that he is the youngest having been born in May 1944. If appointed, he will have a fairly long 17-month tenure at the top. Mr. Gopal Reddy is due to retire in June 2003, and Mr. Patil in January 2004.

Both Mr. Prakash and Mr. Gopal Reddy have a clean record in the civil service, which unfortunately has been smudged to some extent in the case of Mr. Patil. He was one of the four IAS officers against whom the Lokayukta had filed cases for corruption in the early nineties. But as Chief Minister, S.Bangarappa, had the cases against them closed.

But for two exceptions, the S.M.Krishna Government has been generally following the healthy principle of honouring seniority in the appointments to the higher civil service. The recent exception was the appointment of T.Madiyal as the DG-IGP in September overlooking the seniority of Jaiparkash. However, the latter acquiesced in the appointment and had even issued a statement to the Press in that regard. The earlier exception was the appointment in July 2001 of B.Natarajan as the State's Principal Chief Conservative of Forests overlooking the seniority of two officers.

The present Government had appointed C.Dinakar as the State police chief despite some reservations. However, the Supreme Court had ruled in favour of Mr. Dinakar whose seniority had been overlooked by the J.H.Patel Government.

Supersession of IAS officers when it came to appointment of chief secretaries is not unknown in Karnataka, though seniority has generally been the rule. In the first decade after the reorganisation of the State, the chief ministers showed a preference for importing chief secretaries from outside. P.V.Raghavendra Rao of the ICS in 1956, D.Balachandran of the ICS, and later R.J.Rebello and R.N.Vasudeva were the examples. In May 1990, the Veerendra Patil Government appointed M.Sankaranarayanan to the post overlooking his senior by one year, the late N.K.Prabhakara Rao (1956 batch). The Bangarappa Government removed Mr. Sankaranarayanan and appointed Prabhakar Rao. That Government also appointed J.Alexander, now a Congress MLA, as Chief Secretary in August 1992 superseding nine officers. They included even Zafar Saifullah, who eventually retired as Cabinet Secretary at the Centre and achieved the singular distinction of being the only Karnataka cadre IAS officer to become the head of the country's civil service.

It will be no surprise if caste considerations influence the appointment of the next Chief Secretary. Mr. Patil is a Lingayat, Mr. Prakash, a Brahmin, and Mr. Reddy, a Scheduled Caste.

The Government might need to retrieve its support base among Lingayats, some of whose leaders have been critical of it following the Nagappa abduction tragedy.

In that event, Mr. Patil might pip the other two at the post.