Commissioner Manjunatha Prasad shelves ‘practice’ started by predecessor Anil Kumar which had resulted in Rs 2 crore expenditure in just one year
But soon after, PRO section moves file on tender for handling another officer’s Twitter account
Satisfactory outcome of thebengalurulive campaign, but ‘paid handling’ of social media continues in other quarters of government
After indulging in totally avoidable and wasteful expenditure of more than Rs 2 crore over the past one year on outsourcing the management of its Twitter and Facebook handles to a private agency, BBMP has finally shelved the ‘practice’. Two reasons stand out: the civic agency has realized that it is struggling to pay mounting contractors’ bills, and its extravagant social media ‘practice’ was called out by thebengalurulive recently.
Civic chief N Manjunatha Prasad has issued orders to stop outsourcing the management of Twitter and Facebook handles pertaining to himself, the BBMP Administrator, the Special Commissioner (SWM), the Joint Commissioner (SWM) and the Special Commissioner (Health).
Surprisingly, however, within a day of Prasad’s decision, the PRO section has moved a file pertaining to inviting tenders for handling the Twitter account of another IAS officer.
The agency in question got the assignment of handling these social media accounts through a government agency — M/s Marketing Communication and Advertising Agency (MCA).
It was former BBMP Commissioner BH Anil Kumar who flouted the Karnataka Transparency in Public Procurement law which enjoins any government agency to call for tenders for any bill payments above Rs 1 lakh. Anil Kumar issued the work order in favour of MCA, which is reportedly exempted from tender requirements.
Lakhs paid out monthly
Monthly payments of Rs 7.16 lakh were made for a year (September 2019 to September 2020) to handle the Commissioner’s Twitter and Facebook accounts, while then Mayor M Goutham Kumar’s social media accounts were handled by ‘Rajneeti’ agency for almost 10 months at the same cost, according to BBMP’s own Deputy PRO Suresh Lingaiah.
Anil Kumar took over as BBMP Commissioner in August 2019 and immediately issued an order to outsource management of the BBMP Commissioner’s and Mayor’s Twitter and Facebook handles to a private company. Not just that, he enabled additional payments to handle the social Twitter accounts of the Special Commissioner (SWM) and the Joint Commissioner (SWM), IAS officers D Randeep and Sarfraz Khan respectively. Interestingly, Randeep, who was also holding charge as Special Commissioner (Health) until IAS officer Rajendra Cholan took over from him, outsourced another Twitter account to a private agency. In all, the entire exercise was an unpardonable waste of taxpayers’ money for ‘work’ that could have been easily handled by the officers themselves without dipping into the public exchequer.
Speaking to thebengalurulive, current BBMP Commissioner N Manjunatha Prasad, who began his ‘third innings’ as head of the civic agency on July 18, said that the services of the agency have not been renewed. “I have not engaged anyone at BBMP’s expense to handle (our) social media platforms,” he added.
Meanwhile, D Randeep is said to have outsourced @BBMPSWMSplComm, the Animal Husbandry account, the Twitter handle @BbmpsplHealth (now with Rajendra Cholan) and Joint Commissioner Sarfraz Khan’s handle @BBMPSWMJtComm at a cost of Rs 6.30 lakh per month. According to Randeep, he has stopped using the services of MCA since December 9, following an order issued by Special Commissioner (Administration) J Manjunath on behalf of the BBMP Commissioner.
Meanwhile, the @BBMPMayor handle has now been renamed BBMPadmn. The account is now handled by senior IAS officer and BBMP Administrator Gaurav Gupta, who also has charge of the Industries Development department under which MCA functions. MCA reportedly got the same private agency to handle his Twitter account too.
On December 4, Gupta’s handle had tweeted: “Dear Bengaluru citizens, I will be tweeting from this handle as BBMP’s Administrator. While I look forward to a healthy interaction, pls take care, wear mask & maintain social distancing. Let’s join hands & fight #Covid19. @BBMPCOMM.” After this tweet, there has been no further tweet from the handle.
Gupta, Cholan respond
While our queries to Gupta elicited a bland “we will take remedial action” response, Cholan’s response was more specific. He said, “We are following the Commissioner’s order,” and added, “The Special Commissioner (Health)’s Twitter handle has been started just 10 days back after I took over the post. I will follow the Commisioner’s order and, moreover, I have personally not utilised MCA’s services to send any tweets. We have our own staff who are well- versed in technology. However I am personally drafting all messages to post them without using a single paise of taxpayers’ money…this mode is used to share information with the public.”
All in all, the campaign of thebengalurulive against official social media handles bleeding the exchequer has met with the desired response from the present BBMP Commissioner. But various other bureaucrats and politicos continue with this unacceptable practice, even as the common man has no such ‘luxury’ while handling his or her own social media account.