Friday was the birth anniversary of Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, the erstwhile king of Mysore known for his vision and nobility, and his contributions in building some of the best institutions in south Karnataka today.
But Mysore, now known as Mysuru, observed the day amid a coldness that could be felt in both its administrative and political classes. The city, known for its serenity, has been shaken of late — not just because of its Covid numbers but also due to tensions in its administrative machinery.
Shilpa Nag, the Commissioner of the Mysore City Corporation, announced her resignation from the Indian Administrative Services (IAS) at an explosive press conference on Thursday. Reason: alleged humiliation by Mysuru district’s Deputy Commissioner (the Karnataka equivalent of Collector), Rohini Sindhuri.
It was Nag’s first press conference, in which she said she had reached a “breaking point” after “torture on a daily basis”.
Sindhuri replied to this with a point-by-point rebuttal. She said Nag was made in-charge of funds coming through CSR (corporate social responsibility) to Mysuru district and that she had chosen to spend all of it within the city by ignoring other taluks/villages in the district. Nag was asked to furnish data and accounts of the same, Sindhuri maintained. This and other data sought from her was to carry out work effectively, Sindhuri’s press statement said, while arguing that this “by no stretch of imagination” constitutes harassment.
Just a couple of days before things came to a head, the Karnataka Revenue Department ordered an inquiry on May 31 into why Deputy Commissioner (DC) Sindhuri had built an indoor swimming pool and a gym in the government bungalow provided to her. These were allegedly built at a cost of nearly Rs 50 lakh inside a heritage structure, where no such construction was allowed. Hence, the department sought an inquiry report within seven days.
In Mysuru, Sindhuri has been in the crosshairs of different political parties. A Congress MLA had alleged that she did not follow protocols and refused to reply to letters. Also, a Janata Dal (Secular) MLA and a Bharatiya Janata Party (BKP) MLA — GT Deve Gowda and SA Ramdas— have had complaints about her.
Just last week, Gowda dared the local BJP MP, Pratap Simha, to transfer her. “If you have the gumption, why don’t you get her transferred?” Gowda asked, when Simha was quoted in the local media as criticising the DC.
Sindhuri is no stranger to controversy, having faced the anger of the political class earlier as well. She was the DC of Hassan district, from where she transferred out for not showing up to receive the then Chief Minister, Siddaramaiah, when he was on a visit to the pilgrim town of Shravanabelagola in Hassan; Sindhuri’s act was seen as dire protocol violation. Some political leaders allege she talks down to others.
This, in fact, is something that Nag also brought up in her press conference.
“I don’t know what the reason for her arrogance is; perhaps I can fight, I have the strength to do so. But calling all our second-level officers, threatening them with suspension every day and pulling them up on every issue is something I no longer want to tolerate…the city’s welfare is suffering. I have sent in my resignation to the Chief Secretary (CS),” Nag said.
Doubtless, the developments shook the IAS hierarchy; CS P Ravi Kumar visited Mysuru on Friday to review the situation.
A section of politicians and officers who has worked with Sindhuri earlier said she had a bad attitude. Six months ago, Hunsur MLA HP Manjunath said Mysuru had its own Maharani and it didn’t need another in the form of a DC.
He had even hinted that Sindhuri seemed rather influential. “The DC might have the support of two chief ministers — of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. I wonder if the CMs are supporting her, or if the DC controls them,” Manjunath said.
A senior IAS officer, who has worked with her earlier, said Sindhuri had been given a long rope by successive governments.
“When she was transferred out of Hassan once before based on complaints from local MLAs, she had challenged the decision in court and won. She had said she cannot be shunted out within a short eight-month span. It was only later — with her not showing up for the CM’s visit — that she was transferred again. But how is it that someone who goes to court for a transfer like that, is okay to move out another IAS officer in a month? The previous DC had served just a month but was moved out to make way for her, won’t the rules she quoted apply to him?” he points out.
On September 28, 2020, Sindhuri was appointed Mysuru DC, replacing another IAS officer B Sharat, who had barely spent 30 days in office.
The senior officer who preferred to remain anonymous, also said that Nag, who is junior in the IAS to Sindhuri, had always proven an efficient and honest officer. He also points out an incident in 2017, when Nag, as an Assistant Commissioner in Kundapur (Udupi), and her senior, Priyanka Francis, put themselves at risk to bring illegal sand mining under control — in fact, they were attacked by men involved in illegal mining, and just about managed to escape.
“But we did feel that announcing she was quitting is rather extreme. She could have reached out to so many of us in the services and sought help to tackle this,” the officer quoted above added.
A former minister, who has worked with Sindhuri, was scathing. “Mysuru is known best for the Mysore Palace. The Mysore Maharajas themselves don’t have a swimming pool in the palace. Why would you want a private one in the DC’s house just for the DC and her family who are there for a two-year posting? And why would the government have to spend such exorbitant amounts for this, when it is short of funds and trying to manage a pandemic situation?”
Early May, the DC of neighbouring Chamarajnagar district alleged that the Mysuru DC had not helped out with oxygen supplies at a critical time, leading to 24 deaths in the district hospital there; the High Court committee that inquired into this did not find any merit in his complaint.
To her credit, Sindhuri was lauded highly for a special drive she launched to get individual toilets built in over 1 lakh households as part of the Swach Bharat Abhiyan, when she was posted in Mandya in 2014. The district ranked third in the country in this campaign, and Sindhuri was even roped in at a national level to train others from across the country.
Earlier, she has told colleagues that she is targeted by a section of politicians because of her efficiency and that she takes a strong stand against leaders who send files, which may not be on the up and up, for approvals.
That said, the fact that the CS rushed to Mysore on Friday showed the government could be getting worried about the growing controversy between the two IAS officers. It is already under attack from Opposition leaders who are demanding action and questioning the government’s silence on the matter.
Meanwhile, the city of Mysuru, the cultural capital of Karnataka, is sharply divided in its loyalties. Councillors at the Mysore City Corporation, cutting across party lines, have held demonstrations to urge the government to re-instate Nag and reject her resignation.
The CS, who said he was yet to receive any resignation letter, met Nag, presumably to review the facts. The meeting came even as Sindhuri told mediapersons on Friday afternoon that her aim was to ensure that correct ward-wise Covid-19 data was put together by the Corporation. “Conflicting numbers are being given by the Corporation. Official data cannot be 40 cases today and 400 tomorrow. That was my insistence on furnishing official data. The CS can clarify whether I have the authority or not. Officers have other fora to discuss their problems. My aim is to have a Covid-free Mysore by July,” she said.
Her notices to Nag on why the city did not open Covid Care Centres (CCC), too, went unanswered, she said. “Of late, Shilpa Nag had stopped attending Covid reviews. Further, I have ordered that government Covid Care Centres be opened in Mysuru, which failed to open a single CCC until recently, even as taluks and rural areas have opened 18 CCCs in 20 days,” she said.