When Puravankara says Jayakar Jerome zindabad

PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: It is perhaps a sign of the times when nothing shocks or surprises us any more. Or perhaps a sign that the line between public and private is fast disappearing in post-liberal, anything-goes India.

Or perhaps not.

Jayakar Jerome, the former commissioner of the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA), has joined a leading developer in Bangalore, barely two years after his retirement from service—and true to a City where only 44 out of 100 voted, there has scarcely been a whimper of possible conflict of interest.

Jerome, an IAS officer of the 1983 batch, earned plenty of good press—thanks to the deft handout of “G” category sites to journalists and “journalists”—during S.M. Krishna‘s regime when he was credited with having resurrected a moribund BDA and giving it a good name.

As one blogger wrote at the time:

“Once considered highly corrupt and destined for the boondocks, BDA was resurrected, revamped, cleansed, organised, professionalised by a dedicated Jerome and his team. Land sharks, who once ruled the roost, were stamped down as was corrupt BDA staffs, who hitherto, were a law unto themselves.”

When the Congress-JDS coalition government of Dharam Singh transferred him, allegedly at the behest of H.D. Deve Gowda & Sons, Krishna, who had been sinecured to Bombay as governor of Maharashtra, sought Jerome’s services as his secretary.

Jerome who was deputed there, retired in that post in May 2006. (When a World Bank report called Karnataka (under Krishna) “the most corrupt State in India in 2004”, it was secretary Jerome who released a WB clarification to the contrary.)

“He was one of the finest officers I have seen in terms of conceptualising and implementation. To my mind, he would rank in the top 2 per cent of India’s bureaucracy,” Infosys chief mentor N.R. Narayana Murthy said in an Indian Express interview.

But, in 2008, with a new government barely a fortnight away from being sworn in in the State, how appropriate is it for Jayakar Jerome to join Puravankara, the realty major whose rise into the real estate limelight in Bangalore roughly coincided with its rise as an IT City under the benign gaze of S.M. Krishna?

According to a report in The Economic Times, Jerome, a sixth-generation Bangalorean born in Richards Town, will spearhead Puravankara’s proposed infrastructure foray.

“The Purvankara Group is looking to set up separate subsidiaries for infrastructure, hospitality as well as low-income housing. Mr Jerome is likely to head the infrastructure division,” a source told the paper.

For the record, former Times group president Pradeep Guha is a director on the Puravankara board, as are two IT mascots, Jaithirth Jerry Rao and Ravi Ramu of Mphasis BFL.

To be fair to Jerome, there has been a “cooling-off” period of two years from the day of his retirement in March 2006, and a full four years since he left BDA, before his lurch towards Puravankara. So he is probably not carrying any of the short-term “state secrets” from BDA that might benefit his future employer unlike, say, Rathikant Basu who left Doordarshan one day and was with Rupert Murdoch‘s Star Television the next.

Or Vivek Kulkarni, who was IT secretary one day, and heading an IT company the next.

Moreover, if scientists and researchers can leave our sensitive laboratories for greener pastures, what is to prevent a former bureaucrat from making the most of the remainder of his serviceable years, especially when the city of his birth needs it the most?

And to be fair to Puravankara, if they were smart enough (and rich enough) to hire Jerome’s services, why should it be held against them? After all, if recently retired cops can stand for elections like Subhash Bharani and recently retired bureaucrats like N.K. Singh can become “consultants” to all manner of corporates, why should Jerome not lend his services in his area of expertise?

If expertise is the core determinant of Jerome’s recent employment, the jury is still out.

Jerome was credited with designing HSR Layout—destination of the super rich and the home several of the “G” category media beneficiaries. The media went to town about the project. However, it took just one season of heavy rains in 2005 to reveal the planning that had gone into the project. BDA blamed poor designing and location.

OK, maybe Jerome’s expertise, like Abdul Kalam‘s, is in “man-management”.

Still, in a City whose most prized jewel is its real estate, the fact that a BDA chief can now comfortably sup and cohabit with a high-profile developer with deep pockets—with whom he would have certainly dealt with in his four-year and nine-month term—without a single political or analytical eyebrow going up, doesn’t augur well.

Jayakar Jerome may be as honest, competent and efficient as he has been painted to be. But what is to prevent his underlings from picking up a cue and lubricating their way with builders, developers and other land sharks into lucrative future employment?

Photograph: S.M. Krishna (left) with Jayakar Jerome at the dedication of the Hebbal flyover (Karnataka Photo News)