For many, it would seem overwhelming and cumbersome to contest one’s transfer as an IAS officer, especially when you are shifted to Bengaluru from a comparatively rural setting in Hassan. But for 2009-batch, Karnataka-cadre IAS officer Rohini Sindhuri, this was significant and she chose to fight her transfer in court.
On Monday, at the Karnataka High Court, in a personal victory, Rohini Sindhuri secured her reappointment as the Deputy Commissioner of Hassan after a five-month legal battle. She argued that her transfer was in contravention of the notified rules of Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) of the central government and was purely politically motivated.
“It’s a big relief, more than joy,” says Rohini, three days after her victory at the High Court during an interview with TNM. She feels that without the election (Assembly polls in May) and court holiday in between, the matter could have been concluded quicker.“Finally, it ended, and it ended well. It could have ended anywhere,” she says, stating that she was prepared to go the apex court to get a favourable result.
“It's not easy to fight against the government and go the legal way. Some officers have actually asked why I strained myself. Now, after I went through it, I understand it’s too much,” she concedes.
Among most IAS officers, transfers have been internalised as part of the job. For example, Ashok Khemka, a noted IAS officer, has been transferred more than 45 times in his over 25-year career.
“Nobody wants to fight the government, why would you want your life to become hell as the government can find anything wrong with you-- the way you walk, the way you talk. But everything is okay if you’re good with the government,” she says.
But Rohini in her own words felt that someone had to “bell the cat”. “If all officers stood up and demanded their mandatory two years tenure, then the political class would not take us for granted.”
Rohini was issued a transfer order in January, just seven months into her job as the Hassan DC, after being appointed in July, 2017. The media largely attributed the reason to be her tiff with the local leadership of the ruling Congress, including former Minister A Manju.
To her relief, the transfer order in January was stalled by the Election Commission, which asked the state government to keep her posted until the final voter rolls were prepared. But the Siddaramaiah government issued her another transfer order within two days. That was the tipping point for Rohini, who decided to approach the Karnataka High Court.
Finally, it was on Monday, that the new government re-appointed her as the Hassan DC. In April, the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) had okayed her transfer and appointed her as the Commissioner of Employment and Training in Bengaluru.
Prior to this, the 43rd rank holder in UPSC had served several short stints in the state, including as Mandya Zilla Panchayat CEO in May, 2014, from where she was shunted out after a period of 14 months.
However, her good work on ‘Swachh Bharat’ was acknowledged when she was sent to Delhi for a brief period, to train DCs of all states on implementing the scheme.
“I was the CEO of Mandya (Zilla Panchayat), where we were doing Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and it was really doing well. It was only 2-3 months more that I required to make the district be declared as ODF (open defecation free). We were in full gear and the whole team was very motivated. Suddenly, they transferred me,” recounts Rohini, who was born and brought up in Andhra Pradesh.
Although she did not like it even then, she toed the line. When she looks back at the developments, she finds no apparent reason for her transfer.
“But later, a senior told me there were some influential people who wanted government funds to be okayed for facilities run by them. Since I refused, they pulled their weight. At that time, it did not even occur to me as it was a very minor thing even moneywise,” Rohini says.
But this time in Hassan, she was not ready to let go without a fight.
“I knew that we have a fixed tenure but people advised me, why pick a fight with the government and make life hell. It was just seven months into the job. I felt this is not done, you either stick to the rules or you toe the line of the politicians and have longer tenures. I did not feel good about it.”
With every transfer, she would have had to learn the problems of a new place and leave before figuring out the solutions, she said.
“What is the motivation of a job without a purpose? It's not easy to come to a new place when each district has its own problem. It takes time to understand, pick your team and figure out solutions. But with these quick transfers, you are in a new place before you know the problems of the previous place,” says Rohini, explaining her motive behind taking legal recourse.
“I really slogged for the programmes. I was really enthused as I understood the problems and what's needed to solve them. It's very demoralising. A lot of effort goes into making small changes in the kind of system we live in,” she continues.
She said that after she took charge of the district, there were multiple issues that she had set her mind on, to solve and some of them had started showing progress.
Elaborating on her point, she says, “Hassan was 30th (worst) in SSLC results, we just focussed for about two months and we are at 11th position this time. On every front, there have been efforts. Like on health, the District hospital has got CSR funds for the neonatal unit. There are many such small achievements.”
In other plans, she intends to solve the land dispute which has stalled the long-awaited Hassan Airport project. With time, she feels there’s a possibility of setting up a flying school and aircraft repair facility, along with the airport.
“On the same front, we want to better the tourism infrastructure. There is a Science centre, an art gallery to be built over 20 acres, which we have already proposed. The Gorur Dam, we want to beautify it on the lines of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon via a P-P-P model,” she signs off in the hope that funds for the same will be allocated in the upcoming budget.