Bengaluru: The Karnataka government on Monday got embroiled in a controversy over the unceremonious transfer of a senior IAS officer who was leading the Department of Information and played a key role in dealing with the problems of migrant workers in the state amid coronavirus restrictions.
The order to replace Captain Manivannan with Maheshwar Rao, another IAS officer, came on Monday evening, and set off online campaigns on change.org to 'bring back' the captain.
Manivannan had been holding two posts —principal secretary of the labour department and that of the department of information and public relations. Two months ago, even as the first virus cases were getting reported in Karnataka, he had launched a unique volunteer-based 'Corona Warriors' group through social messaging services such as Telegram.
Initially, the move was meant to fight fake news related to coronavirus as it was causing confusion and panic among the masses. Eventually, this volunteer base was utilised to work with the government and police to effectively implement the lockdown, help in distributing aid to migrant workers and those in distress.
The transfer orders come amid reports that Manivannan had been speaking up for the rights of workers at a time when several sections of the industry were trying to get labour laws relaxed on the pretext that lockdown had severely hit the manufacturing and construction sectors. A lobby had been building up to bring in the UP model on labour laws as well.
One such lobby group, the Bangalore Employers Association , apparently even wrote to the Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa seeking change of 'leadership in the labour department' as the labour secretary was "instigating" workers to lodge complaints against their own employers who were not in a position to pay wages during the lockdown. The association in its letter stated that over 700 workers had lodged complaints against their employers through the labour department's portal after this effort.
However, if this was the reason for Manivannan’s ouster, why he divested of the Information department post is not clear.
Hours after the transfer order — without another posting —came out, citizen groups started an online campaign to get the government to retain him in overall effort against Covid-19.