Saturday, October 10, 2009

Manivannan, IAS Interview

This entry is a reproduction of Mr.Manivannan's interview from Times of India.

He has a reputation for being a taskmaster. But that, and a touch of humility, have allowed Mysore deputy commissioner P Manivannan to earn the respect he commands

H M Aravind | TNN

    Last May in Mysore, during the assembly elections, there was someone the politicians feared more than even the voter: P Manivannan, the deputy commissioner of the district. Marshalling a phalanx of men and machinery — 12 control rooms, 130 mobile stations and 20,000 people — the heat he turned on erring netas was much hotter than that of the peak summer sun.

    In the two months leading up to elections, he slapped case after case against violators of the code of conduct, seized Rs 1.25 crore in cash and generally ensured that malpractices were checked.

    His writ cut across party lines. Manivannan acted against both H D Deve Gowda and B S Yeddyurappa, seizing vehicles plying without permission. Another time, when on night beat, he heard that a BJP supporter had been caught with wads of currency notes. He rushed to the spot and affixed his signature to be a witness in the case, something unheard of till then. The 1998 batch IAS officer modestly refuses to take credit for the poll success. “It is team work,” he asserts.

    Manivannan has a fabulous back story. His father Ponnaiah — a strict disciplinarian — was the first to be educated in his family. Says the son, “Some among Dalit communities in southern Tamil Madu still own land and my father was one such. He went to school but was not allowed to attend college.” An enraged Ponnaiah left the village, settled in Madurai and joined the Indian Railways and resolved his kids would do what he couldn’t. Of his five sons, three became engineers and two doctors.

    Ponnaiah spent 50 per cent of his salary on books, ‘our window to the world’. The day he got his salary, he used to take kids shopping for books and in the process built a library of 60,000 books. Manivannan grew up reading these books at home in Srirangam. There was a timetable at home too. A topper, he opted for chemical engineering as he wanted to be a missile scientist. Some time into the course at Regional Engineering College, Trichy, he figured that it had nothing to do with propellant technology! His avid interest in defence technologies made him look at NDA and DRDO. Fortuitously, he fell ill, which, he believes, ‘is the turning point in my life’.

    He started work with a Chennai-based group and in 1994 accepted a SAIL offer to go to Bokaro because ‘I had never gone outside Tamil Nadu’. His days at Bokaro made him think about the civil services ‘because to change something you got to be at the top’. Though he was offered his parent state, he opted for the common roster and came to Karnataka. Reason? “I felt in my parent state, I can never be neutral.”

    Bokaro, however, will always have a sweet spot in his heart. That’s where he met his wife Vandhana Chouhan, an IIT Delhi grad from UP, who was also working there. Manivannan attributes all the finesse he’s acquired to her. “She remodeled me. The Manivannan you see now is because of my wife,” he says, a broad smile splitting his face. They met in 1998. “I was impractical then. She taught me mannerisms and worldly things. Imagine, I never pressed my clothes those days. I washed and wore them!” he grins.

    Such niceties apart, Manivannan has a reputation for being a hard taskmaster. Some of his public strictures haven’t gone down too well with some officials. He is neither unaware nor apologetic about it. “I am a little strict with officers. That is because we are occupying somebody else’s place. We have a responsibility,” he says.

    There’s also a softer side to his personality. At Hubli-Dharwad, when he was leading the demolition drive, a senior engineering official went on a long leave. Manivannan punished him but also helped solve the engineer’s family problem. The latter’s daughter had married a boy from another community and was ex-communicated. Later, when expecting a child, she had wanted to meet her mother. When Manivannan learnt of it, he took the girl with him to her house knowing that the engineer would not deny him entry.

    Today at Jalasannidhi, the over 100-yearold colonial bunglow where he lives alone as his wife and their five-year old son Amogh live in Bangalore, he’s up at 6 am. After a couple of hours devoted to workout, meditation, newspapers and a glass of ragi amblee (gruel) and fruits for breakfast, he’s work ready. He returns home late in the night and browses through files. Net-savvy, he browses for an hour to stay updated with armed forces news and reads about astronomy and functioning of the brain, his two favourite pastimes. “My midnight walks make my staff think I am a ghost,” he laughs. Sky-gazing is also included in his list of favourites.

    He readily admits a negative: “I take decisions fast”. It’s something that’s landed him in trouble sometimes in a politically and culturally active place like Mysore. Like the launch of Karnataka’s first sound-and-light show at Mysore Palace, which was put on hold owing to a controversy surrounding its script.

    With a 25-year career ahead of him, Manivannan believes the learning curve never stops. That every educated person should teach others. That’s why every Thursday, he’s at office quite early, teaching a batch of 15 UPSC aspirants how to ace the exam.


As deputy commissioner, he is in-charge of Mysore district’s law and order and development projects. He is also in charge of JNNURM projects. He is chief of MUDA and heads Karnataka Exhibition Authority. Mysore Palace is under his control.


I’ve liked all postings till now. But maybe my one-year stint at Karnataka State Pollution Control Board was more fun because I worked with engineers.


“I came into the limelight for demolition work at Hubli-Dharwad. I would rather people remember me for constructive work. ’’


Going to villages and meeting people. It is our interaction with the public that will help us understand their problems and concerns. I want to stay in villages and plan to take a sabbatical for that.


Aravinda Adiga’s The White Tiger

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