Bengaluru: The controversial transfer of a Karnataka IAS officer Monday was allegedly triggered by differences with state labour minister Shivaram Hebbar and pressure from industry bodies, sources in the B.S. Yediyurappa government told ThePrint.
IAS officer Captain P. Manivannan, who held the post of principal secretary, labour department, and additional charge of the information and public relations department, was coordinating multiple Covid-19 relief efforts when he was transferred late Monday night.
What added to the controversy was that he was transferred without a posting even as fellow IAS officer M. Maheshwar Rao, the principal secretary for MSME & mines, was appointed his successor. Manivannan was appointed animal husbandry secretary Tuesday evening, nearly 24 hours after his transfer orders were issued.
In his role as labour secretary, Manivannan oversaw several crucial efforts, including starting the unique volunteer-based “Corona Sainikas (warriors)” initiative to bust fake news surrounding Covid-19.
He also threatened action against local employers who withheld workers’ wages.
Sources in the labour department said the initiative rubbed employers off the wrong way, adding that Manivannan was set to issue around 900 notices before he was transferred.
He also earned the ire of local politicians after he allegedly refused to let them participate in foodgrain distribution as part of lockdown relief operations for migrant labourers, the sources said.
ThePrint made multiple calls to Hebbar for a comment on this report, but all went unanswered. Manivannan, meanwhile, said the transfer was a “routine thing in the government”.
“Accordingly I have handed over the charge and await my next posting. Why speculate on why and how the transfer happened? How will that help in public service? Let us trust the wisdom of the government and wait for my next posting to do my work,” he added.
“I thank all those who have supported me and stood by me.”
Employers, politicians ‘irked’
In a tweet last week that has since been deleted, Manivanan sought to warn employers who cut salaries of workers, saying Hebbar had decided to issue notices to employers who had not paid salaries or full wages to workers for April.
A source in the labour department said “900 notices were to be initiated to employers for failure of giving wages” when he was transferred.
Manivannan’s transfer came just days after the Karnataka Employers Association (KEA), a leading industry body, shot off a letter to Chief Minster B.S. Yediyurappa accusing the officer of “high-handedness”.
In its letter, the KEA urged the state government to change the leadership in the labour department as “repeated instances of high-handed actions of the labour department during the lockdown period are affecting the harmonious relationship between the employers and employees in Karnataka”.
It described Manivannan’s warning of action against them as a “threat”.
When this complaint was allegedly taken to Yediyurappa, Hebbar did a U-turn, the sources said, and officials were directed not to issue the notices. Manivannan was also allegedly told to delete his tweet.
The labour department sources added that Manivannan had also upset Hebbar over the distribution of food kits earmarked for construction and migrant labourers in the state — an initiative that the labour department was carrying out in coordination with the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP).
Hebbar, the sources said, had been under pressure from several legislators who wanted the distribution to be tasked to the political class.
“Hebbar, one of the Congress rebels who has been newly inducted into the BJP, is under pressure to please his BJP leaders. The minister instructed the officer to hand over at least 1,000 kits to the the local corporators so they can distribute it. Manivannan flatly refused,” said an official working in the Covid war room that was being run by the IAS officer.
‘Need to seek reasons’
As soon as Manivannan’s transfer orders were issued late Monday night, the ‘Corona Warriors’ volunteer group started an online campaign to “#Bring Back Manivannan”.
This is the popularity of Captain Manivannan
Dear @BSYBJP it time to rethink and #BringBackCaptain..
I understand money is important, but at times humanity is needed as well..
Hope you will consider to #BringBackManivannan please@mani1972ias @narendramodi @AmitShah pic.twitter.com/aysaD4h0YM
— ತರ್ಲೆ 𝒯𝒽𝒾𝓂𝓂𝒶 (@BLRrocKS) May 12, 2020
This is just not done! This is Unfair! That too when the state is fighting the crisis!@CMofKarnataka @BSYBJP @ShivaramHebbar @PMOIndia @narendramodi @HMOIndia @mani1972ias @IASassociation @AshwiniMS_TNIE @Rohini_Swamy @ShekharGupta #BringBackManivannan #Karnataka pic.twitter.com/PZNrdCPD3m
— Fathaheen Misbah (@MisbahFathaheen) May 11, 2020
Sources close to the officer said there was a need to seek the reasons behind the transfer, so it does not happen time and again.
“We need to ask for transparency and transparent transfers instead of demanding a person be reinstated. Why isn’t the labour department posting the number of action kits distributed on their website? Where is the transparency?” a source said.
The Karnataka government has been facing criticism for its decision last week to halt the Shramik Express trains, meant to carry migrant labourers home, for two days, allegedly at the behest of the state’s construction lobby. Following heavy criticism, the state had to restart the trains.