Honesty is a rare trait in bureaucracy. And not so desirable if one wants to survive and flourish in a system that is largely compromised. Those hopelessly stubborn about staying honest learn this the hard way. Like K Mathai, for example! The Karnataka Administrative Service officer, who blew the whistle on scam after scam and rather innocently swears by transparency and accountability, was transferred 27 times in a 10-year career. He says six of those transfers happened in a span of four months.
But he refuses to learn. The former Air Force officer, who became a bureaucrat and so naively brought out irregularities involving senior officers, is a misfit in a system that thrives on corruption, collusion and nepotism. And, his superiors, experienced in the ways of the world, are making sure he realises it.
Besides being hounded from one part of the State to another and from one post to another at surprising frequency, he did not receive salary for about eight months and was made to face many departmental inquiries for doing, simply, his job. The officer says an inquiry that was closed long back is being reopened under pressure from a senior officer who has an axe to grind. Last week, he was issued three show-cause notices in a single day, the officer says.
Mathai is in news again after he approached the Lokayukta with a complaint of harassment against four top IAS officers, and hopes his campaign against what he calls ‘IAS mafia’ will make the Chief Minister listen to him. Last heard, Chief Secretary S C Khuntia has agreed to meet him and the government is trying to placate him to save further embarrassment.
Mathai has a long track record of cracking down on illegalities and corruption. It was when he was serving as tahsildar in Hassan that he targeted the sand mafia. He conducted raids after raids, and the sand cartel returned the favour with a bold murder attempt. They torched his house but the officer survived.
When he was the commissioner of Mandya Urban Development Authority, he unearthed a Rs 300-crore-scam in allotment of sites involving MPs, MLAs and other biggies. The government could not ignore Mathai’s reports and the case was handed over to the CBI. Mathai says the people exposed in his reports once sent a mob to attack him. He was saved by a timely warning from a well-wisher.
Mathai’s whistle-blowing tendency has marked him as an officer to be wary of. His reputation ensured that he was transferred several times more before being posted as an assistant commissioner with the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP). Here, he detected a swindle that became the high point of his career, and also a reason for relentless harassment.
He submitted a report in 2015 highlighting how the civic body lost at least Rs 2,000 crore in taxes and fines from advertisements since 2007 and how officials are filling their pockets by allowing illegal hoardings across the city. Mathai followed it up with seven more reports, and in one he even named a senior IAS officer.
The scale of wrongdoings and Mathai’s irrefutable reports left the government with no choice but to order a probe. However, he was soon transferred out of BBMP, although not before being issued a show-cause notice for investigating the advertising issue without being asked to do so and for going to the media with the findings. The message was clear: there is no mercy for whistleblowers.
After a couple of more postings, he was posted as an administrative officer of Sakala, the government scheme for timely delivery of services in Bengaluru where the harassment continued.
In April this year, Mathai sent a letter with a 101-page report to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah talking about “intentional harassment” by senior officers and how the Sakala mission is being crippled by a few. His letter said he was not being allowed to do his job and was threatened with transfer, suspension and dismissal. When there was no response, the officer decided to approach the Lokayukta.
Mathai, 56, joined IAF in 1979 when he was pursuing engineering and took part in Operation Blue Star. He finished a course in law while serving in the IAF and took voluntary retirement in 1999. He wrote the Karnataka civil services exam the same year and joined the service in 2006.
The simple officer talks straight, and believes he is being harassed for exposing a senior officer in the hoarding scam. He says his fight is for setting up an accountability commission to hold bureaucrats answerable for their actions and decisions. He has the backing of common people, several organisations and even some former bureaucrats. It’s a tough battle. For, corruption is a way of life in bureaucracy. Transparency is a dirty word. People like Mathai find it extremely difficult to last. Honesty indeed is a rare trait. Almost indecent!
Resident Editor, Karnataka