In what is perhaps a first for Karnataka, and perhaps the nation, two of the most important branches of the state’s government machinery is headed by Women – the police with Neelmani Raju as DG & IGP and the civil services by K Ratna Prabha. Y Maheswar Reddy spoke to K Ratna Prabha on her assuming the office of the Chief Secretary of Karnataka.
Born in 1958, K Ratna Prabha is a 1981 batch IAS officer. With 36 years of experience, Prabha began her career as an Assistant Commissioner in Bidar in 1983. She was the first woman officer to be posted to Bidar where she was very popular. So much so that in 1993 she was posted back to Bidar as Deputy Commissioner after 10 people died in firing.
She holds a Master’s degree in Sociology and English and had also secured the first rank in French. She is also a passionate photographer. During her tenure in Bidar as the Assistant Commissioner, one of her subordinates was inspired by the way Prabha worked. In October 1984, when that officer was blessed with a baby girl, he named her after Ratna Prabha (the baby’s full name is Ratna Prabha Patil).
She is also the second woman top officer in the state after Indian Police Service (IPS) Officer Neelamani N. Raju took over as the Karnataka’s Director General and Inspector General of Police (DG & IGP) in October.
Prabha, 59, is also the first Dalit woman to hold the post of Chief Secretary in the southern state. She is the third woman officer to hold the top administrative post in the state after Theresa Bhattacharya (2001) and Malati Das (2006).
Unless given an extension, Prabha will be in the new post for four months as she is due for retirement in February.
A large number of friends, family members and relatives who had gathered to witness her assuming office raised the slogan - 'Ratna Prabha zindabad' - much to the surprise of the officialdom which was present there.
You seemed overcome with the emotion while assuming office as Chief Secretary
I became emotional when I saw so many people from different walks of life and also from different parts of the state turn up at Vidhana Soudha to wish and congratulate me on this occasion. I am of the opinion that no other Chief Secretary has received this sort of reception and affection on assuming office.They have given me so much love. In fact, they were all waiting for me to become Chief Secretary. Yes, I am an emotional person. One can understand others and stay in tune with reality when there is an emotion. You can work efficiently only when you feel for others.
Are you happy with becoming the Chief Secretary of the state?
Yes. It has been a great journey. I began my career as an Assistant Commissioner in Bidar in 1983. At the time many of my batch mates enquired of me why I got such a backward district to work as the Assistant Commissioner. I was the first woman officer in Bidar district that was beset with a lot of issues and problems. I told them it could be for a reason. Starting from Bidar, I have reached this position.
What are your top priorities?
I am not interested in launching apps in an attempt to make life easy for people. I am of the opinion that lending a human touch to administration and strengthening the public grievance redressal system is the need of the hour. We can create infrastructure but the greatest challenge will be responding to people’s grievances. I will focus on the state government’s flagship schemes. My other priority will be women’s empowerment and encouraging women to become entrepreneurs.
How will you empower women in the state?
There is a need to encourage and support women to become entrepreneurs. I have already initiated measures to establish Women Entrepreneurs’ Parks at Hubballi, Dharwad, Mysuru, Ballari and Kalaburagi in the state. I will complete this task in the next two months. Creating a conducive atmosphere is necessary for women to become entrepreneurs.
With Neelmani Raju as DG & IGP and you as Chief Secretary, what can women expect, especially on their safety, from both of you?
When two women are on the top, there will definitely be a positive change. We will identify the loopholes and plug them to strengthen the system. I am not saying women officers are better than men, but a woman's perspective will always be different. I will discuss with the DG&IGP shortly on this issue.
Generally, chief secretaries are presumed as rubber stamps or ornamental heads. Are you confident of working towards achieving your goal or change that perception?
I will show the positive power of Chief Secretary. I will certainly make an attempt to bring in changes and make a difference to all. I am grateful to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah for giving me this honor. My main priority will be addressing public grievances and strengthening the grievance redress system. That's my favorite subject. It gives me a lot of joy solving people's problems. I will devise a system to solve public grievances and reach out to the public. It will be something like Chief Minister Siddaramaiah's Janata Darshan. I will encourage government officers to meet people on the lines of Chief Minister’s Janata Darshan. I believe that Chief Minister’s initiatives will be speedily implemented if officers allocate time to meet the people and make attempts to redress their grievances. If officers follow suit in this endeavour, it will support what the Chief Minister is doing, I will show how a Chief Secretary can change things. The condition in Karnataka is different as politicians and bureaucrats work together for good causes.
It is said that you complained against gender bias in the state’s bureaucracy. Is it true?
It is not true. I have never said or discussed about gender bias in the state bureaucracy. I was responding to the complaint of women entrepreneurs during a meet. They were narrating their problems, especially gender bias, they came across. It was a fact. I was misquoted by the media. What can I do for that? In fact, I was the first woman IAS officer to be appointed as an Additional Chief Secretary in the male-dominated commerce and industries department. If there is commitment and passion, there will be efficiency in work irrespective of the officer’s gender. I have proved that by being responsible for industrial promotion in the state and instrumental in bringing out the New Industrial Policy which aims at inclusive growth of the State with a special thrust for women, a weaker section in society. I was never a victim of gender discrimination. I received encouragement since childhood. I always got opportunities that I deserved and I have lived up to the expectations and will continue to do so.
You have just four months in office, don’t you think you will be overburdened with elections around the corner?
I always like to be overburdened. All my postings so far have been very demanding and I have discharged my duties efficiently and effectively. I will have to focus more on time management to deliver on multiple fronts. Maybe, I will have less sleep.