How accessible are your ministers?

Metrolife anonymously called the Vidhana Soudha numbers of a host of ministers to check whether they were at work. Here’s what we found

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi met MPs who took oath as ministers, he set a rule for them: they had to be in office by 9.30 am and avoid working from home.

What is the scene in Bengaluru? How accessible are Karnataka ministers?

Metrolife did a reality check on Wednesday, calling official numbers between 10.20 am and 11 am to check if ministers were at their Vidhana Soudha offices.

All minister get plushly appointed offices at the grand secretariat in the heart of Bengaluru.

It was an anonymous test: the callers did not identify themselves as reporters. In most cases, the phones rang and no one responded. A couple of offices did pick up our calls. Many numbers listed on the government website are dead. So here is what happened:

Attendee: Good morning, minister’s office.
Reporter: Is this Mr D K Shivakumar’s office? Can I please speak to him?
Attendee: Madam, I will give you another number. It’s 080 2220 0642. That’s his quarters number.
Reporter: So, is he not coming to work today?
Attendee: No, he’s not coming to office.
Reporter: When is the right time to come and meet him?
(Phone changes hands. Minister’s PA attends the call.)
Madam, today he’s not coming. Please contact his quarters.
Reporter: Sir, what time does he usually come in on other days?
PA: He doesn’t come. He comes only when there is a meeting or something is scheduled.
Reporter: So, if I have to meet him, I should call the quarters?
PA: Yes, madam, please call there and then the meeting can be scheduled accordingly.

Email for appointment: R V Deshpande, Revenue Minister

Reporter: Can I speak with R V Deshpande?
Office: This is the honourable minister’s office only. The honourable minister is out of station.
Reporter: Any idea when will he be back?
Office: May be day after tomorrow.
Reporter: What is the procedure to get in touch with him?
Office: Please make a note of the email address. You can send a request mail to him. He will reply to you. It is raghunath1947@yahoo.com
Reporter: What is the procedure to get an appointment with him at the Vidhana Soudha?
Office: You can just send a request mail, he will send the address and meeting time.
Schedule an appointment: U T Abdul Khader, Urban Development Minister

When Metrolife called his office, his staff said he would reach office in an hour. When the reporter asked how to schedule a meeting with him, she was given the number of his personal assistant. The official also said the minister was in office whenever he was in Bengaluru.

No show from these ministers

Krishna Byre Gowda, Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Minister

Three numbers are listed against his name on the government website. The first number (080 2225 6093) rang four times. No one picked it up two times. The other two times, it was busy. The second number (080 2362 6678) was busy four times and the last number (080 2334 3968), we were told by the network, does not exist.

B Z Zameer Ahmed Khan, Food and Civil Supplies Minister

The official landline listed (080 2225 3659) does not exist, according to the network. As for the two mobile numbers provided online (98440 25075 and 98459 11111) — the call did not go through the first time; the second time no one picked up, and the third time, it was busy.

Jayamala, Minister for Women and Child Development and Empowerment of Differently Abled and Senior Citizens

A reporter called the landline number (2225 5282) several times over half an hour, and no one responded.

G Parameshwara, Dy CM and Bengaluru Development Minister

A reporter tried both his official numbers (2225 4661 and 2225 1176) for half an hour. The phones rang but no one answered the calls.

I reach office by 10 am: K J George, Large and Medium Scale Industries Minister

No one responded when we called his official landline, but when we eventually called his mobile, he said he was on his way to inaugurate a government school in Lingarajpuram.

What time do you start your day and how?
I start my day with a workout. I then review the progress of the previous day’s work and chalk out meetings for the day. If I have to address a gathering for the day, then I prepare for that. I make sure I spend time studying the subject that I am supposed to talk about.

What time do you reach office?
If I have a programme or meeting early in the day, I go there first and then head to office. I usually reach by 10 or 10.30 am, if there’s nothing else lined up. There is really no fixed time. I am at Vidhana Soudha on days that I have cabinet meetings or meetings with the CM, or I sit at Khanija Bhavan, which is where the industries department is located.

‘Staff should respond to calls’

Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy’s spokesperson points out no rule exists to say ministers must be present in office by 10 am.

“In fact, because of their commitments, they might not be able to be there at all. However, all employees have to be there by 10 am and work till 5.30 pm,” he says. Ministerial staff are tracked with the help of a biometric system.

“It’s unfortunate that you couldn’t get through to some of the numbers. But these rules apply to all employees, which means someone should have attended to the calls,” he says.

Librarian frustrated by red tape

A 43-year-old man attempted suicide by slashing his throat and wrist at a toilet in Vidhana Soudha earlier this week. Revanna Kumar, who works as an assistant librarian, had come to meet officials to submit an application to seek regularisation of his service. By 1.30 pm, he was found in a pool of blood in a toilet on the third floor. He was immediately shifted to Bowring Hospital and is said to be out of danger.

Open for public after 2.45 pm

Vidhana Soudha and Vikasa Soudha throw their doors open to visitors from 2.45 pm to 5.30 pm. If ministers are in office during visiting hours, citizens can go in without prior appointment. What about security? Vistors are frisked, and after the security checks, issued a day pass. They enter from Gates 1 and 3. People who want to meet bureaucrats also have to follow the same procedure. Completed in 1956, the Vidhana Soudha is a grand structure that provides plush offices for ministers and their staff.

(Published 26 June 2019, 14:22 IST)

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