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‘Taskmaster who delivers’ – how Telangana ex-chief secy Somesh Kumar became crucial to KCR

Kumar is said to be close to BRS’ K Chandrashekar Rao under whom he has worked since 2014. The Centre last week transferred him to Andhra Pradesh following a court order.

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Hyderabad: Telangana’s former chief secretary Somesh Kumar has managed to build up suspense over his posting.

After the Centre directed him to report to the Andhra Pradesh government following a court order, he met Andhra chief minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy Thursday – but hasn’t joined duty yet.

Kumar’s apparent reluctance to move to Andhra Pradesh, the cadre he was allotted to after the state’s bifurcation in 2014, stems from his proximity to Telangana CM K Chandrashekar Rao, said bureaucrats.

“Somesh Kumar is a taskmaster, a delivery-oriented officer. When a particular task is assigned to him, he makes sure he gets it done, no matter how tough it might become for him. Such a chief secretary is a blessing for any chief minister,” a former bureaucrat who once worked with Kumar, told ThePrint.

Kumar, a 1989-batch All-India Services Officer, was appointed as the chief secretary of Telangana towards the end of 2019. He was appointed to the top post superseding several senior officers in the state.

Allotted to the Andhra Pradesh cadre at the time of the state’s bifurcation, Kumar shifted to Telangana after the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) allowed his plea for a posting in the state.

But in 2017, the Centre’s Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) filed a petition in the Telangana High Court against the CAT order sending Kumar to Telangana.

In a setback for Kumar last week, on 10 January, the Telangana High Court quashed the order of the CAT allotting Kumar to the Telangana cadre. The DoPT the same day passed orders relieving Kumar from the state, and asked him to join in Andhra Pradesh within 48 hours.

Kumar, whose tenure ends in December this year, met Andhra CM Reddy Thursday. “No post is big or small, whatever post I get I will take it up,” he told the media, after reporting to the state.

When asked if he would join as an adviser to the Telangana government (if he takes voluntary retirement), he responded by saying that “no decision has been taken yet, whatever comes in the stride, we are going to take it”.

On Wednesday, the Telangana government appointed A. Santhi Kumari as the new chief secretary, the first woman to take up the post since the state was formed.

Also read: Telangana’s new chief secretary Santhi Kumari: ‘Low-profile’, once shunted for ‘mishandling’ Covid

Raising eyebrows

One of the biggest controversies of Somesh Kumar’s career pertains to allegations of deletion of names of lakhs of voters from the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) rolls when he was serving as its commissioner in 2014.

While the commissioner, Kumar was implementing the Election Commission’s (EC) National Electoral Roll Purification and Authentication Programme linking Aadhaar with Voter IDs. The allegations of voter names being deleted stem from the time this project was taken up.

Telangana opposition parties alleged in January 2020, soon after Kumar’s appointment as state chief secretary, that the post was a quid pro quo for “helping” the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi (then called Telangana Rashtra Samithi led by CM Rao) win the GHMC polls of February 2016.

In November 2015, in the wake of complaints accusing Kumar of removing the names of voters from the Seemandhra region (primarily comprising those hailing from Andhra), he was shunted out of the GHMC and moved to the tribal welfare department. The EC had sought action against him after 7 lakh voters’ names were allegedly removed from the rolls.

Months after the BRS came to power in the first elections in Telangana in 2014, Kumar also played a key role in the execution of chief minister KCR’s ‘intensive household survey’ across the state. The survey, however, drew flak from the opposition, which said that Rao had planned it to identify people in Seemandhra.

There were also apprehensions among the people of the state about why the survey was being conducted and why they should give away personal information.

“This was an exercise in data collection. And Somesh Kumar, as GHMC commissioner, definitely played a key role in executing this survey in Hyderabad and its limits. The proximity between KCR and Somesh grew at that time,” an officer who previously served in the GHMC said.

While commissioner, Kumar was also appointed as ‘special officer’ of the GHMC in 2014, which gave him executive control and powers to take all kinds of decisions until the GHMC polls.

“In the process of getting tasks done, he (Somesh Kumar) is very tough with people working under him. Ultimately, he makes sure the work given to him is done,” another bureaucrat, who wished to be unnamed, said.

Impressing KCR

Prior to 2014, Kumar had served in the departments of tribal welfare (first stint) and collegiate education, and also as collector of Anantapur district. He maintained a low profile and his association with KCR started in 2014, said bureaucrats.

Like many other officers, Kumar did not wish to shift out of Hyderabad post the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh. Currently, there are at least six All-India Service Officers in Telangana who belong to Andhra Pradesh cadre but are serving in Telangana, including the newly-appointed Director General of Police Anjani Kumar.

“When KCR took over as chief minister in 2014, he wanted the existing bureaucrats to continue in their roles, especially those officers who had years of service pending. The reason was that Telangana was a new state and he wanted to provide some stability to the government officers who would be around for a few years until the new state took shape,” a senior bureaucrat said.

“And naturally, including Kumar, several other officers did not want to leave Hyderabad and relocate to Andhra. There were also apprehensions about working under then Andhra chief minister Chandrababu Naidu,” he added.

One of Kumar’s key postings was as principal secretary for revenue, commercial taxes and excise in 2018.

According to sources, Kumar managed to impress KCR while looking after the excise department. He initiated policies that boosted the state’s revenue by a huge margin.

In 2017, when Kumar was the principal secretary, the Telangana government started an annual fee – retail shop excise tax – for liquor outlets in certain areas, among other moves that proved lucrative for the KCR government.

Under Kumar’s watch in 2017-2018, Telangana’s excise revenue increased 40 per cent compared to the previous year.

“By doing all of this, Kumar managed to get into the good books of the chief minister – he got noticed by KCR,” an officer said.

Kumar was supposed to serve as Telangana chief secretary for four years until the end of 2023 and the decision to hold him for such a long tenure was meant to ensure stability in the state administration.

Kumar’s reinstatement to Andhra Pradesh has come at a time when Telangana is preparing for the assembly polls, due this year, and amid growing tensions between KCR’s BRS and the BJP.

Following Kumar’s transfer to Andhra, Telangana BJP leader Marri Shashidhar Reddy said “democracy would be the biggest gainer with this”.

Reddy was among those who had complained to the EC against Kumar over the deletion of voter names. He had claimed that “Kumar got away lightly at that time, under the patronage of CM KCR”.

(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)

Also read: ‘BJP modus operandi similar to TRS’ — Why Telangana Congress filed plaint against KCR for poaching

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