Bengaluru: For those who work with Karnataka Chief Secretary Takkalapati Mahadeva Naidu Vijay Bhaskar, it’s his farsightedness, meticulous planning and implementation that has helped the state handle the Covid-19 pandemic better than most others.
Some of his senior colleagues told The Print that Bhaskar, 60, is a man with integrity, soft spoken but a hard taskmaster — “something that many officers of today can emulate”.
With Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa allowing civil servants to lead the fight against Covid-19, Bhaskar, a 1983-batch IAS officer, has been at the forefront of handling the crisis in the state.
Colleagues say his meticulous planning and focus on data has helped Karnataka keep its Covid-19 numbers down — for now at least. As of 19 June, Karnataka had 2,847 active cases, with 4,983 recoveries and 114 deaths.
Capital Bengaluru has emerged as the best managed metro in the country, with a fraction of the cases in Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai.
Munish Moudgil, secretary in the Department of Personnel and Administrative Reforms and head of the state’s Covid war-room, told ThePrint that 50 per cent of Karnataka’s success in handling the pandemic should be given to the chief secretary’s planning and implementation.
“His direction on what needs to be done is very clear. In the context of Covid, his strength has been handling hundreds of officers, assigning tasks and following up on them to ensure they have been delivered,” Moudgil said.
“He assigns you a specific task, and expects it to be executed meticulously. It will be an executable task, but he also constantly follows up with the officer on whether it has been delivered or not. If you don’t, be ready to be pulled up,” he added.
“For example, if he gives you a task on July 14 and the officer says it will be completed by October 17, he will call the official on that particular day and ask him if it has been done. Such is his approach. He does not compromise on quality or quantity of work.”
‘The methodical model bureaucrat’
With colleagues crediting Bhaskar for the state’s measures, K. Jairaj, who retired as additional chief secretary, Karnataka, told ThePrint that he isn’t really surprised.
“I have seen him at work when I was in the government in various capacities,” Jairaj said. “He is an extremely thoughtful and methodical person. He is a man of details.
“He is a model of a good civil servant. He is dispassionate, takes decisions on the basis of data and implements government policies faithfully and in an extremely self-effacing manner,” Jairaj added. “He is always a man who works behind the scenes.”
Uma Mahadevan, the state’s Principal Secretary for Rural Development and Panchayat Raj, said, “He maintains a very low profile and never makes himself the centre of a story. His dedication to work, dedication to processes on the ground and to improve and bring systemic reforms is outstanding.”
Under the chief secretary’s leadership, Karnataka has been one of the most proactive states in the country. The chief minister shut down Kalaburagi district on 15 March, after it recorded the country’s first Covid-19 death, following consultations with Bhaskar.
Even before the national lockdown, Karnataka had decided to impose its own on 22 March and began preparing to tackle the virus. Bhaskar coordinated with several authorities including the central police forces, the Indian Air Force and all state departments to earmark quarantine facilities.
Isolation hospitals and wards were set up in all district government hospitals and places of mass gatherings like airports, bus stations, ports, railway stations, malls and multiplexes were immediately shut.
Karnataka also set up a robust contact tracing and tracking system, and employed technology to keep track of Covid numbers. The state has so far managed to keep its numbers in check.
A senior official who works closely with the chief secretary, on condition of anonymity, explained that he took tough decisions despite criticism from certain quarters. In retrospect, it has proved to be extremely effective in controlling the virus spread, he added.
“We have seen him in every single task force meeting and he remembers every single point of discussion made during the hundreds of meetings. He takes meticulous notes, his planning and coordination have inspired us in many ways,” the official said. “You can say without doubt, Vijay Bhaskar sir has led the Covid fight from front by taking all of us into confidence.”
Tough administrator with a 3-decade career
Bhaskar’s family moved to Bengaluru from Tamil Nadu in the 1960s. He studied at the Baldwin Boys School, one of the city’s most prestigious institutions, before acquiring a Masters in Economics from BITS, Pilani, and an MBA from the University of Birmingham.
He joined the Indian Administrative Services (IAS) in 1983 and since then has served in several capacities in various departments. His work experience has spanned over several fields including school education, sanitation, agricultural development, water supply, road and transport.
Before he assumed charge as chief secretary on 1 July 2018, Bhaskar had a short 146-day stint as the commissioner of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the city’s civic body.
He took over the role in July 2015 but despite the short tenure, has been credited with ushering in several changes in the administration. He chaired 188 meetings, conducted 123 inspections of areas where garbage was accumulated and collected fines worth Rs 1.38 crore from the contractors who did not discharge their responsibilities.
A tough task master, Bhaskar was the first officer to impose a fine of Rs 2,000 on civil contractors for every pothole found on Bengaluru’s roads. He also did the same with electrical contractors who did not replace defunct street lights.
The stint at the BBMP also endeared him to staff in the organisation.
“He is a very simple, down-to-earth man,” said Prathima Ramesh, a pourakarmika (garbage cleaner) attached to the BBMP. “He would himself clean the office space and throw away cups or plastic that people may have strewn around. He would also drink tea with us and find out about our problems.”
Mahadevan, the principal secretary, recalls having worked under Bhaskar during his tenure as the Mysore deputy commissioner in 1996. She says she was a probationary officer under Bhaskar and he would travel hundreds of kilometres each day to ensure the success of India’s literacy mission.
“As probationers, we were expected to report to work early, visit villages with him where we would sensitise people about the importance of the literacy mission and then head back to office,” Mahadevan said. “Once again in the evening, we would visit shiksha kendras with him to see how effective they were. His dedication is inspiring.”
Love for Kannada, music & sport
One of the traits that many of Bhaskar’s colleagues admire in him is his love for Kannada. The officer not only speaks chaste Kannada, but also ensures that it is used during official work.
“He is very passionate about the language. He makes sure that all MHA notifications are translated into Kannada,” Karnataka DGP Praveen Sood told ThePrint. “He truly believes the language in its chaste form should be learnt and read.
“He is also a very tech-savvy bureaucrat who is quick to respond on all platforms, be it WhatsApp, social media,” Sood added.
Uma Mahadevan recalls meetings where he tended to refer to literary works of great Kannada authors to make a suitable point.
“It was just a few weeks ago, while chairing a meeting we were discussing some aspects related to agriculture. He immediately referred to a book by the famous writer Poornachandra Tejaswi,” Mahadevan said.
Sood recalls how earlier this year, there was a tri-services (IAS, IPS and IFS) cricket match being held at the Chinnaswamy stadium. Bhaskar and Sood had been invited to toss.
“I thought he would toss and after some time leave the venue. To my utter surprise, he sat the whole four hours keenly watching the match and cheering,” Sood said. “It is only then I realised how much he loves cricket. To have the chief secretary of a state spending time like this made us all happy as it also showed that we all have a fun side as well.”
In an interview to a state government-run TV channel in 2019, his mother T.M. Muniyamma said her son enjoyed his music lessons.
“Having attended French classes, learnt karate, and taken part as a NCC cadet, you also learnt to play the piano. You have struggled a lot and made us all proud,” she said in a recorded message in the interview. “I have studied till Class 5 in Tamil medium, your father till Class 5 in Telugu medium. In our entire community, you were then the first IAS officer.”