MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: We live in an age in which we can barely think or act about anything that doesn’t concern us or our own. And we seem to be heading into an age, if we are not in it already, that salutes and celebrates this kind of “gated” individualism and insularity.
Yet, what is it about P. Manivannan, the IAS officer, that makes people buck the conventional wisdom? How (and why) do we step into the streets, write letters, sign petitions, call for bandhs, and take up cudgels on his behalf to allow him the full and free run to discharge the civic tasks assigned to him?
The answers are manifold, but they are also bafflingly simple.
Manivannan, it seems, appeals to the core democratic values that seem to be fast vanishing from our midst, especially among our political and administrative masters. Namely, an unflinching respect for the law of the land, a tough no-nonsense approach in applying it uniformly, and a desire and drive to involve “We, the People” in securing what the framers of our Constitution intended us to receive.
And he never fails to get tomorrow’s citizens, today’s children, involved in the proceedings.
When he arrived as the Commissioner of Hubli-Dharwar Municipal Corporation, three-and-a-half years ago, he was an unknown commodity. Many thought it was some sort of punishment posting since not many in the IAS tribe would like to involve themselves in the unglamourous world of municipal administration.
By the time he left more three years later, Manivannan had acquired a new image and given the post he occupied new teeth. He had become a virtual messiah.
Manivannan’s heroic image is also a reflection of the municipal system in Karnataka that lies totally crippled. It suffers from a resource crunch which is perpetual. It is mostly dominated by a coterie of self-serving corporators, corrupt officials, and unscrupulous builders, developers and contractors, besides other vested interests.
And “We, the People” are helpless to do anything while our towns and cities are strangulated in front of our own eyes.
Manivannan’s approach to tackling these not insignificant problems is simple. Without taking recourse to the normal bureaucratic urge to get additional powers or money from the government, he diligently does what we have come not to expect any longer.
Namely, he applies the existing rules and uses the existing resources!
One crucial weapon he employs in achieving this is inspiring his much-maligned and slovenly staff. Instead of being passive agents of politicians and other vested interests, he empowers them into becoming instruments of change to deliver the goods to the people who underwrite their salaries.
Witness, for example, the sight of municipal staff suddenly looking smart and feeling proud in their new uniform.
Witness, for example, the sight of his some of them turning up to seek a revocation of his transfer.
In Hubli, it was his drive against unauthorised constructions, violations of building laws, and illegal encroachments that brought him the sobriquet “Demolition Man”. And it is precisely that reputation that has had politicians, developers and other landsharks in Mysore—often the three being the same—quivering in their pants.
Manivannan’s demolition drive is a sight to behold. He visualises every aspect of it. He ensures that the very same municipal staff, who had connived with the violators, are in full public gaze during the demolition. And, he puts on his helmet and leads the demolition team from the front.
Unlike the usual spectacle of debris accumulating for months, it is cleared almost immediately, with a view to not inconveniencing road users. And unlike the usual spectacle of the rich and powerful being spared, the excavators strike at targets without considering the financial or political antecedants of their owners.
In Hubli, among the buildings tackled were some which belonged to supporters of leading politicians, including ministers. But none dared to protest openly because of the opprobrium involved.
In a bid to get the irritant removed, a cartel of contractors pulled the requisite political strings and got him transferred him as deputy commissioner. The public, which had seen what could be done by a steely application of the laws and rules, was incensed. This triggered off widespread protest, which resulted in the transfer orders being rescinded.
During his tenure, the tax-collection machinery was geared up to bring more revenue. Work was decentralised by opening zonal offices, which obviated the need for people to go to the head office to get even small works done. He went in for e-governance, opened a website to bring about transparency in administration and introduced a new work culture.
Every tender was publicly advertised instead of being secretly farmed out. He opened channels of communication by interacting with NGOs on identifying civic problems and finding remedies, and providing for citizens vigil over the quality of work turned out. He also took steps to set up citizens committees for better involvement.
Thanks to Manivannan, the roads of twin cities became wider and better, and the second biggest corporation jurisdiction in the State now sports a cleaner, better look. Hopefully, Mysoreans will get to enjoy such stern urban governance without which the “Heritage City” could well go to seed.
But will our politicians and their puppeteers allow him to do that?
More importantly, do the people want it badly enough to not let crooked politicians and their puppeteers come in the way?