Finding My Feet in Commercial Department by Ramarao Annavarapu SignUp
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Memoirs Share This Page
Finding My Feet in Commercial Department
by Ramarao Annavarapu Bookmark and Share

When I took over charge as Assistant Commercial Superintendent, (Howrah Area) my first working post on IR, exactly two years after joining Eastern Railway, DV Reddy was the Divisional Superintendent (DS) of Howrah Division. He was an officer from the Mechanical Department, recruited as a Special Class Apprentice (SCRA) in Jamalpur.

Until 1960, SCRAs had a four-year training period in Jamalpur, during which they appeared for examinations conducted by City and Guilds, London, leading to the diploma of AMI (Mech) E, after which those who succeeded were put on field training for another two years. At the end of their six-year training period they were appointed as Assistant Mechanical Engineers and confirmed in Class I. At the insistence of my brother AVR Murty, who was my mentor through my schooling period, I had appeared for the SCRA recruitment examination conducted by UPSC in 1951 but, unaware as I was of the prospects of promotion SCRAs, I made no serious effort to succeed as I was not interested in becoming an apprentice on the railways,. My classmate SN Mahant, who took the same examination joined the railways in 1952. If I had passed the examination along with Mahant, I would have become a Class I officer in 1958. By taking the longer route of completing my post-graduation and appearing for the UPSC examination for IAS and allied services in 1956, I became a class I officer in 1957. I had gained a year, or so I thought.

The Commercial department of Howrah Division was divided into two parts, Howrah Area and Howrah Line, each under a Divisional Commercial Superintendent (DCS). The DCSs reported to the DS and were designated as Branch Officers. Each DCS had two assistants, with geographical jurisdictions. DCS (HA) was assisted by ACS (HC), holding charge of Howrah Station and Parcel Sheds, and ACS (HG), overseeing the work of Howrah Goods Sheds while DCS (Line) was assisted by ACS I and ACS II. The post of DCS (HA) was lying vacant and BM Bhattacharjee, whom I had known earlier as Coal Area Superintendent, Dhanbad, was holding dual charge. He welcomed me but did not take me to meet the DS. Perhaps he wanted to save me the pain.

I had seen DV Reddy in Dhanbad sometime earlier. Reddy, who was then tipped for posting as DS Asansol, visited Asansol and Dhanbad on a reconnaissance trip. Officers in Dhanbad had laid out the red carpet for him, even arranging a match of tennis, his favourite sport. But I was not introduced to him. As DS HWH he had the unsavoury reputation of being not only a hard task master but also harsh, rude, unreasonable and sarcastic in his behaviour even with senior officers. I must hasten to add that he was not an exception in this regard. Most railway managers of his time, and perhaps in other organisations too, seemed to think that the only way to get your subordinates to work was by wielding the whip. Even if they genuinely cared for their men, they cultivated a tough exterior to instil fear. Managers who treated their men and officers as human beings were in a minority. This changed after independence, but the change was gradual, with many of the officers choosing to adopt the style of their seniors.

DV Reddy believed in surprise inspections in the early hours of the morning. His inspection notes, with his characteristic sarcasm, would be on the tables of the concerned officers by 10 AM. For instance, after a visit to Howrah station at 4 AM one morning he wrote,

“A couple of bulls were found loitering in the concourse. DEN I may please arrange to send them to their respective cows.”

A few days after I joined, DV Reddy left Howrah to join Central Railway as Sr Deputy General Manager, a newly created post to act as a stepping-stone for promotion to General Manager. After his retirement, he wrote a book called The Inside Story of Indian Railways. It was a highly prejudiced account in which he glorified his own department and denigrated others, particularly the traffic department. Without mentioning names, he passed very derogatory remarks against several traffic officers, including some highly regarded senior officers. This made him even less popular. In retrospect, his ire was perhaps justified from the point of view of his contemporaries from his own department. Many of them may have nursed similar feelings but lacked the courage to express them in print. It will not be out of place here to recall the state of services in the railways at the time and the inter-departmental and intra-departmental relationships amongst the officers.

In the early years of the railways in India, power rested with the engineers who constructed the lines. They had learnt the trade as apprentices. Many of the early railway managers were drawn from the army and there was palpable friction between them and the civilians. The locomotive department, likewise, consisted of men who had been trained in workshops. The Transportation department rose out of the need to have an independent organization other than track laying & locomotive maintenance to monitor the ordering of trains. As the railways became popular and revenues increased, commercial activities like revenue collection, marketing, accounting and finance assumed importance. In due course, Engineering Department – responsible for permanent way and buildings, Mechanical Department - responsible for the manufacture and upkeep of locomotives, carriages and wagons, and Traffic Department – in charge of train ordering, revenue collection and related activities, emerged as the major railway departments. These three departments monopolized general management posts like Divisional Superintendents and General Managers. Since Finance & Accounts and Stores Officers had no direct field experience, they were not considered for these posts. Electrical and Signalling Departments were small units under the Mechanical Department.

The method of recruitment had crystallized by the 1930s. Those who qualified for the Indian Civil Service but lacked the ranking to be posted in ICS were offered positions in the Traffic (Transportation) & Commercial Departments (TT&CD) of Indian Railways, Indian Railways Accounts Service, Indian Ordinance Service and Indian Defence Accounts Service. Civil Engineers for Indian Railways were inducted through the Indian Railways Service of Engineers (IRSE) examination conducted by Federal Public Service Commission (now known as UPSC), and those among them who failed to meet the stringent medical specifications for IRSE were offered posts in the Stores Department.

The training infrastructure set up by East Indian Railway at Jamalpur to recruit and train technicians in the maintenance of locomotives, carriages and wagons, was adopted to recruit Special Class Apprentices (SCRAs), who would go on to become officers in the Mechanical Engineering (Transportation) & Power (METP) Department, if they passed the mandatory AMI Mech E examination. There was no direct recruitment of officers to the Electrical and Signalling Departments. They rose from the lower ranks.

Lack of uniformity in methods of recruitment found its echo in the attitudes of each group vis-a-vis the others. TT & CD and IRAS officers prided themselves as the elite services because they might have been in ICS, but for a stroke of ill-luck. Moreover, they were graduates, the minimum qualification for the ICS exams, the only ones who, in the words of one of them, “have passed through the portals of a University”. IRSE officers, on the other hand imagined they were superior as only the best students entered the science stream, a prerequisite for admission to engineering colleges. There were only a few engineering colleges in the country, each with a reputation of its own, Guindy, Roorkee, BHU, Shibpur and VJTI were marquee names for engineering education, proudly recalled by its past students. TT & CD, IRAS and IRSE equally detested the METP (called “Gymmy boys” after the Jamalpur Gymkhana), treating them as half-educated, snobbish upstarts who had imbibed all the despicable habits of the British rulers without their good qualities. For their part, the METPs, who spent several years of their early youth together in the Gymkhana, bonded closely and tended to be clannish, abhorring all the other services, more particularly the TT & CD, with whom they interfaced in train operations more frequently. The white-collar habits and easy familiarity with the English language of the TT & CD officers, many of whom were educated in Oxford and Cambridge contrasted with the work-a-day habits and working language of the Gymmy boys, who, to quote DV Reddy, likened themselves to "hewers of wood and drawers of water". At the district and field level, it was quite common to see DTSs and DMEs lug it out in an attempt to hold on to their respective territories, often to the detriment of railway operations.

During the Second World War, the ICS examination was cancelled. TT & CD and IRAS officers were recruited on a temporary basis, on the condition that their services would be regularised after the war was over. But when the war ended the government was forced to provide jobs for thousands of soldiers and officers discharged from the army. Most of the infantry officers who were graduates but had no other technical qualifications were given jobs as civilian officers, which for the Indian Railways meant TT & CD or IRAS. The majority came into TT & CD, with their war service counting for seniority. To assign these War Service Candidates (WSCs) seniority vis-a-vis those who had been directly recruited during the war years, 30 % of the latter were chosen, rather arbitrarily, to be given seniority from the date of joining and the remaining 70 % were all placed below the WSCs. This led to the bizarre situation of officers in the same batch being separated far from each other in the seniority list. Moreover, the retrospective seniority assigned to the WSCs meant that some of them “became Class I officers when they were still in school” as some of the direct recruits complained. WSCs were by themselves a divided lot, indulging in cut-throat competition, jockeying to get ahead of the others.

The Mechanical department got its own share of dissention when government decided to extend the scope of IRSE exams to include other engineers. Officers who joined directly in IRSME, as the service was called were viewed with suspicion by the Jamalpurites, who clanned up to put the new entrants down by all possible means.

Come independence, relationship within each service got skewed, following some pragmatic recruitment policies, whose long-term effects were not fully assessed and catered for. For Indian Railways, the country's liberation from the British brought with it a massive exodus of personnel at all levels, as Britishers returned to England and many Muslims chose the newly formed state of Pakistan. To meet the shortage of officers’, the government asked the UPSC to recruit officers in all departments on a temporary basis, without going through a written examination, on the assurance that they would be confirmed in due course. The largest number of such temporary officers was in the Engineering Department. In the absence of a clear policy, their future was left in the hands of the regular IRSE recruits. Those who were able to please their bosses, by their work or otherwise, got the benefits of confirmation ahead of the rest.

It was, therefore, no surprise that DV Reddy harboured ill will towards the traffic officers around him. While he was overbearing and nasty to all his subordinates, he singled out traffic officers for special treatment. So, while everyone on the division heaved a sigh of relief when he left, there was jubilation in the traffic department. After a gap of three months, during which a series of officers were appointed to look after Howrah Division temporarily, Narendra Nath Tandon was posted as DS Howrah. Although he too was from the SCRA cadre, he was much less of a dictator than Reddy.

When I joined Howrah Division, I got no guidance from DCS [L]. I was confused about my span of control and my immediate goals. While I held charge of the commercial aspects of Howrah station and Parcels, Station Superintendent Howrah exercised control over the same areas as the administrative head of the station. My work seemed to revolve around disciplinary action against delinquent staff, charged with minor or major transgressions. Perhaps, the feeling of being left to fend for myself was compounded by the fact there was also no regular incumbent of the post of DCS (HA) for a few months, until Radha Kanta Basu of 1952 batch joined. Puran Chand, the SS HWH, was a very polished and efficient officer, who never did anything to make me feel out of sorts but the set up itself was not to my liking. SS was assisted in commercial matters by Station Master (Commercial) for passenger traffic & by Chief Parcels and Luggage Inspector (CPLI) for parcel traffic. Saraju Nath (Shoroj) Mukherji, Station Master (COM) was a very efficient and aggressive supervisor, with rare qualities of leadership. When he was selected for promotion to Group B (then known as Class II), and posted to Headquarters RK Basu thought, perhaps rightly, that he would be more useful as ACS (HC). I was shifted to the post of ACS II, where my jurisdiction was entirely on the Sahibganj loop. I had to travel over two hours from the headquarters of the division to reach it. This was only for a brief period to stand in for Tulsi Das Bhatia who had gone on leave. After he returned, I took over as ACS (HG), a post I held for the rest of my stay in Howrah Division.

In these two years, I learnt the nuances of rules and procedures for booking and delivery, rating and claims for goods traffic and established my reputation as a commercial officer. RK Basu and BM Khanna, who succeeded him, both reposed implicit faith in me in the discharge of my duties. Much of the credit for this transformation from a rookie to a confident commercial officer goes to RK Basu but I learnt a lot from the experienced staff both in the field and in the office. Chittaranjan Mukherjee, Goods Superintendent was both well versed in the rules and a good manager. Abani Mukherjee, the Chief Clerk of the Commercial Office and his assistant SK Sharma extended full support and guidance whenever needed. I recall with gratitude the inputs of other clerks in the office. Kalidas Bose was a venerable veteran whose meticulousness and dedication were legendary. It was said that if Kali Babu found a scrap of paper on the floor, he would pick it up, start a file with it and put it up to his superior officer for orders!

My jurisdiction included Ramakristopur Good Shed, situated on the riverbank south of Howrah, and Sibpurchar. There were several sidings that served industries in the area and many plots leased by traders from Calcutta Port Trust. These two goods offices handled the commercial transactions for these clients. Jute bales arriving in boats by the river would be off loaded by cranes at jetties in Howrah Goods Shed and Ramakristopur, loaded in wagons and sent to jute mills. Finished products like gunny bags were despatched from the jute mills to destinations across the country. Coal from Asansol division, moving in piecemeal in four wheeled wagons, was received not only for the industries but also by plot holders for sale in retail.

In 1961, there was a move to aggregate coal moved to piecemeal consumers by setting up a coal dump in the Sibpurchar area. The Ministry of Mines that controlled production and distribution of coal deputed an officer to Calcutta to examine the feasibility of the project. P Sivarama Murty, Statistical Officer was the brother of my old friend from Nagpur, PV Ratnam. He called me from Delhi, and I invited him to stay with me for the duration of his visit. He went about his business, meeting people in the state government, visiting the site etc. It was only after his departure that those who were keen to set up coal dumps came to know that Murty had been my guest. An agent called Rajkumar, representing one of the interested parties, was a regular visitor to my office. I had rebuffed his attempts to get familiar with me. When he heard about my closeness to Murty, he regretted missing a chance to look after us properly to advance his company’s claims for setting up the coal dump.

Rajkumar was an example of the merchants, traders and agents we dealt with. Most of their requests would be for orders in contravention of rules and they would try to become friendly and make offers that we did not like to accept. The only exception was Ram Gopal Jalan. He never made a request that would violate rules or cause us embarrassment. For this, he earned our respect and became a long-term friend. I would meet fifty or more such agents each day. It was a trying experience, but I managed to keep my cool most of the time.

Union leaders would also take our time, but I had cordial relations with the office bearers of both the Eastern Railwaymen’s Congress affiliated to INTUC and the left oriented Eastern Railwaymen’s Union. I particularly remember Nirod Roy, who was a Parcel clerk and had just begun his career in the Eastern Railwaymen’s Congress. He would often drop in to brief us about the latest happenings in his union. He rose to occupy important positions in the union later.

Railway Board introduced the concept of Staff Councils as a part of labour participation in management. Staff Councils, consisting of officers, supervisors and representatives of trade unions, were set up in field units to advise the administration in matters relating to welfare of employees. I was the chairman of the Staff Council for Howrah Goods. One of the problems raised by the unions was the availability of toilets in the goods shed area. Howrah goods sheds were spread over a large area, with over twenty goods sheds dealing with diverse commodities. We held useful discussions as a result of which we drew up a proposal for construction of additional toilets closer to the place of work of the employees in each shed. The proposal was approved and included for execution in the works programme of the following year.

The commercial department was housed in the first floor of Parcel shed number 2, with an asbestos false ceiling under the tinned roof. To reach it from the main divisional office building, one had to cross parcel shed number 1 and cross the tracks by a dusty, narrow, expanded metal walled passage. I always wondered why an office that necessarily required frequent interface with public, was in such an inaccessible place. The cabins of the ACSs had no individual ceilings, giving free access to the noise from the other cabins, from the main offices and the parcel sheds downstairs. In summer, the tin roofs made the office a steaming sweat pot. It was still in this state when I returned to Howrah Division as Divisional Railway Manager nearly three decades later, except that the DCSs had become Sr DCSs and their higher status of Junior Administrative Officers entitled them to air-conditioned chambers. I feel blessed that I was given the opportunity to rectify this in my time.

It was also a period of making friendships and having fun. Shanti Basu, whom I had replaced as ACS (HC), moved to ACS (HG). BM Khanna replaced Saroj as ACS (HC) and TD Bhatia was ACS II. Kishen Lal Thapar was AOS (G). Later, I became ACS (HG), my batchmate MMP Sinha replaced TD Bhatia and PN Kalra joined as ACS I. Shanti Basu, TD Bhatia, KL Thapar and BM Khanna were all batch mates a year senior to me whereas PN Kalra was a year junior. Except for Shanti Basu, the rest of us lived in Liluah, commuting to Howrah by suburban trains. We would meet for lunch in Thapar's small wooden cabin and regale each other with stories of the day, mostly about our bosses. These sessions tended to stretch into the afternoons, as we talked and laughed. Asit Kumar Bhaduri, the DOS (T), whose chamber was across the passage from Thapar’s cabin, joined us occasionally and christened us the “gigglers club”. The venue changed to the chamber of BM Khanna after he was promoted to DCS (HA).

BM Bhattacharjee DCS (Line), whom we used to refer to as BOM Bhattacharjee, figured often in our chats as he gave us cause for amusement with his actions. When he entered office in the morning, he would reach for his paan daan, stuff a paan into his mouth and call his peon. He would summon the Chief clerk and half a dozen clerks dealing with different subjects and lecture them while they stood before him. On one occasion, Abani Babu, the chief clerk, stopped him saying, “Daaka daaki bondo koron, Eyi paan ti khaan” (Stop calling people, have this paan). Abani babu could take such liberties because we all respected him for his experience and knowledge.

Bhattacharjee used to dispose his files by marking them to his ACSs, often writing, “Please discuss”. Finding it too tiresome to scribble the note on the large number of files put up to him, he got a rubber stamp made and asked his peon to sort the files and affix the appropriate stamp, so that he had only to put his initials on the file. Of course, he rarely found time to discuss the files when the ACSs approached him!

This was a common failing of many railway officers I worked with in my career. The need to prioritise file work and deal with important subjects with expedition was delightfully exemplified by VK Sthanunathan, our Commercial Instructor in Railway Staff College. He told us about an officer who believed in dealing with files strictly in the order of arrival. Since he was also slow in disposing them, he replaced his incoming tray with a series of trays marked, “one month old files”, “two month old files”, “three month old files”, “four month old files”, “five month old files” and “six month old files” and insisted on picking up files from the last one!

Thapar had a knack for playing practical jokes so we had to be alert, to avoid becoming his victims. When MMP Sinha joined us, his family lived in Patna and he would take every opportunity to go to Patna to be with them. As ACS II, his jurisdiction stretched from Khana, 130 km from Howrah, to Kiul, 150 km short of Patna. Sinha would schedule a visit to his section on Friday and push off to Patna, returning to Howrah on the following Monday. During one such trip, rains disrupted train services and Sinha could not return to office till Wednesday. We ragged him and warned him of the consequences that could result from his absence from work, leaving him nervous. Soon afterwards, he got a call on the intercom from the DS to see him at once. Sinha set off with long strides from his office to answer the summons. As he passed Thapar’s cabin, he heard the latter call him.

“Sinha.”

Sinha stopped and peeped into Thapar’s room, holding open one of the flap doors to the cabin, anxiety writ clearly on his face.

“What is the matter, Sinha. You look worried.”
“DS has called me. I don’t know what he is going to say.”
“Oh! Don’t worry. Come and relax for a minute before you go.”

Sinha obeyed, hoping to postpone the inevitable. It took some time for Sinha to realise that the voice on the intercom was not that of DS. It was Thapar.

In Howrah Station, as in other offices all over West Bengal, the staff had a Recreation Club that would put up cultural shows from to time, more so in the festive season. It was amazing to see the acting and singing talents of the amateur artists on the stage. The office bearers of the Club asked me to request the Chief Commercial Superintendent to grace the occasion when they staged Dinabandhu Mitra’s Nil Darpan. VT Narayanan had left Eastern Railway by then and GS Khosla, the new CCS, graciously accepted the invitation. I received him at the theatre and we watched the play from the balcony. We expected him to sit for a while and excuse himself, as the play was in an unfamiliar language, but he not only stayed up to the end but also asked searching questions about details of production of the play and stage arrangements. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that he was a writer and playwright who had staged many plays in Punjabi. After retirement, GS Khosla was commissioned by Railway Board to write a History of Indian Railways.

Howrah station also had a football club. The talented footballers of the club reached the finals of a tournament conducted in Aurangabad in Bihar and were keen to have one of their officers accompany them to the finals. Neither RK Basu nor ACS (HC) were available on the day in question so Basu deputed me to accompany the team. At Aurangabad Road railway station (later renamed as Anugraha Narayana Road) we were given a warm welcome by a crowd led by a grey haired, barefooted and khadi clad person, whom everyone called Netaji. They gave me a lot of respect and looked after my comforts. When the match was over, with our boys winning the runners up trophy, I prepared to leave for the station to catch the next available train. The organizers asked me to stay for a couple of days and enjoy their hospitality. I told them that I was out of my jurisdiction and had permission to stay for only one day. Netaji, who was called when I refused to accept their request, said he would speak to Babuji (Babu Jagjivan Ram, Minister for Railways) to get the permission. It took some effort and time to convince them to desist from doing so. It showed not only how popular Babuji was in his home state, but also how approachable he was to his followers even for petty matters.

One interesting event I remember from my first tenure in Howrah Division concerns the attitude of commuters using Howrah station. As a rule, commuters are in a hurry to get out of the railway station. The conditions of travelling in West Bengal made passengers in Howrah even more so. After a long and arduous journey in overcrowded, unpunctual suburban trains they were keen to catch buses and trains to rush to their offices. They would emerge from the gates, in an unending flow, brushing past ticket collectors standing with their hands outstretched, like beggars asking for alms.

When I was ACS (HC), the Howrah station was being remodelled to cater to needs of railway electrification. New platforms were added to the North Wing, with a common exit. As an aid for checking of tickets of incoming passengers, engineers had designed a set of turnstiles placed in a semi-circle at the entrance to the concourse from the new suburban platforms. The day the turnstiles were commissioned, the DS and other officers assembled in the concourse waiting for a train to arrive on the new platform. As the train rolled in and slowed down, passengers from the first coach jumped off the train and ran towards the exit gate. They stopped momentarily on seeing the new barriers, but they were pushed forward as the crowd swelled with passengers from the rear coaches. As the mass of commuters neared the barrier, some in the vanguard suddenly jumped over the turnstile. This was the cue for the others and, as we all watched helplessly, all the passengers followed suit, sheep like, leaving us with the lesson never to take commuters for granted.

During this period, I also came face to face with corruption for the first time in my career. Indian Railways have a long history of corruption going back into the days of the Raj. When we were growing up, we knew that all station staff accepted mamool for services rendered, like booking and delivery of parcels and goods, supply of wagons etc. It was common for station staff to cultivate and bribe establishment staff, now called personnel office staff, to get posted at stations that offered more traffic and provided greater volumes of mamool. Railway jobs at subordinate level were coveted because of their “side income”. Apart from mamool there were frauds, involving misdeclaration of parcels and goods and fraudulent booking and delivery, that led to heavy railways claims.

Corruption in the railways was considered so rampant that, after independence, the government felt constrained to appoint a parliamentary committee to examine the subject in detail. Headed by Acharya JB Kripalani “The Railway Corruption Enquiry Committee” was the only instance of a committee to enquire into corruption in a government department. The committee submitted its report when I was under training. It examined different aspects of corruption on railways, detailing various corruption practices, including a long description of the way railway staff enrich themselves from cattle traffic. As a follow up to the report, Railway Board asked the railway zones to conduct their own enquiries and initiate disciplinary action against the delinquent staff.

When I was ACS (HG), Vigilance Officer (VO) Eastern Railway visited the cattle shed and submitted a report on his observations that was duly passed on, in true bureaucratic fashion, to DCS (HA) for taking “necessary action”. BM Khanna and I went through the report and, finding no specific cases or names of transgressors, decided to take no action. On hearing this, the VO complained to CCS that his report was being ignored. Khanna got a call suggesting some token action to satisfy the VO. Two Goods Clerks with longest stay in the cattle shed were transferred to other sheds in Howrah Goods. Within a week I got a call from Shanti Basu, who was now in the office of CCS. He said that a chap called Sanyal had approached him to get his transfer orders cancelled. I told him the circumstances under which Sanyal had been shifted and wondered why he wanted the transfer cancelled when all he had to do was to move to another shed in the same premises. Shanti replied that Sanyal felt the transfer meant a loss of prestige for him. I disagreed and suggested that he should talk to Khanna directly. Shanti lacked the courage to broach the subject with his own batch-mate. GC Lahiry, Dy CCS called Khanna the next day on the same subject. Khanna told him quite curtly to mind his own business. We thought that was the end of the affair. But there was more to come.

A few days later, on Christmas day, I was resting in our flat in Liluah when the doorbell rang. My wife Indu went to answer it and I heard her speak to someone. She returned and said that someone had come to meet me. I found a dark man of medium height in a rich gabardine suit with a loud tie, wearing dark glasses. A wide belt prevented his trousers from slipping from his large paunch. A strong scent of perfume filled the room. He was sitting in the drawing room with a basket containing packages of different sizes beside him. The air of prosperity he radiated and the packages he brought filled me with suspicion.

“Yes, what can I do for you?” I said somewhat testily. The man broke into a wide grin showing a gold tooth. “I came to wish you a merry Christmas, Sir” he replied. “And what are all these things for?” I asked.
“Season’s gifts, Sir; for you, for madam, and for the children” saying which he began to open the packets.
“Don’t open them” I said raising my voice. “First tell me who you are.”
“Sir, my name is HS Sanyal.”

It took only a few seconds for me to realise that the man in front of him was none other than the Goods clerk who had been recently shifted to a less sensitive position. I controlled my rising temper before speaking.

“Are you a Christian?” I asked him.
“No, Sir.”
“Do you think I am a Christian?”
“No Sir. I know you are Hindu.”
“Christmas is neither your festival nor mine. Then why did you waste your money to buy gifts for us?” I said, with a look which unmistakably told Sanyal that his game was up. I continued, raising my voice, “You were trying to bribe me to get your transfer orders cancelled. How dare you come to my house to try this mean trick? Pick up all those unwanted things and leave my house this minute.”

He begged me to reconsider my decision. He even said that he had to look after his sick father. That only raised my hassles further. I told him I was shocked that he was prepared to spend so much on so-called Christmas gifts for me when the money should have been spent on his sick father. Indu rushed in from the kitchen on hearing the commotion. Sanyal turned to her and implored her with folded hands to take pity on him and ask me to save him from starvation by cancelling his transfer. She refused to interfere and told him politely to do as I had said and returned to the kitchen. Sanyal said he could not carry the parcels all by himself, so he begged me to let the parcels stay. I immediately ordered my domestic help to fetch a rickshaw and carry the parcels down to load them into it. Sanyal had no alternative but to meekly follow him and leave us with a Namaskar.

The next day, I mentioned the incident to Khanna and the facts were carried to the DS and other superiors. It raised me in their estimate. I did not wish to proceed against the culprit because in a few instances in the past such action had yielded no results, the accused having succeeded in wriggling out of the allegations, citing inadequacy of evidence. Khanna and I got a reputation of being strict officers who could not be bought.

Corruption had many other faces and I continued to come across it throughout my service. When I was undergoing training in CCS office, VT Narayanan CCS briefed us about the rampant malpractice of overcharging passengers by booking clerks and of collection of gratification, instead of legitimate revenues, by ticket collectors and ticket examiners. We were asked to travel incognito in sections of our choice and submit reports, which would be treated with utmost confidence and used for taking summary action against the defaulting individuals. We did as we were told and learnt that several employees lost their jobs based on these reports.

Many of us continued to catch booking clerks and TCs even after becoming ACSs, to which KK Das, our senior and PRO Eastern Railway at the time, remarked that we were wasting our time on small fish while the bigger fish were getting away. We didn’t realise the value of this observation then but soon found out that it was no longer possible to plug sources of corruption in this way. The trade unions protested against summary dismissals and the administration gave in and ordained that in all such cases the employee would get a chance to defend himself, with the help of a defence counsellor, who was authorised to cross question the reporting officer. Since witnesses were difficult to find in such cases, with even the aggrieved passengers refusing to testify, it boiled down to the officer’s word against that of the defendant. The presiding officers refused to accept the officer’s word in such cases and the employee would go scot free. As time passed, we also began to see instances of the bigger fish that KK Das had referred to. I was not directly involved in the incidents that follow in the sense that they did not touch my jurisdiction, but I was very much there and was privy to Khanna’s thoughts and decisions.

With elections imminent, politicians of all hues began to move all over the country in search of votes. The railway minister paid an ‘official’ visit to Calcutta and made his moves. After his return to Delhi, CCS Eastern Railway received a reference from Railway Board enclosing a request from the handling contractor of Howrah to increase his rates. The letter was duly forwarded to DS Howrah for furnishing remarks. Khanna, after examining the grounds on which increase in rates had been sought, concluded that no increase was called for and replied to CCS accordingly. A week later, Khanna was informed that a Dy Director from Railway Board would be visiting Howrah to re-examine the issue. Atam Prasad Varma, a senior IRTS officer, endeared himself to us by his pleasant manners and clearheaded thinking. After a visit to the parcel sheds he applauded Khanna for a well thought out response and promised to put up a report that would please all concerned. True enough, without finding fault with Khanna’s assessment, he found some new, albeit irrelevant, arguments to justify some increase and the contractor got what he wanted, though not perhaps to the extent he had expected from his deal with the minister.

The second case was even more curious. There was no medical shop in Howrah station. After the minister’s visit, Railway Board issued a directive to the Eastern Railway to take early steps to set up a medical shop at Howrah Station. Instructions were duly passed on to Howrah Division. As per the prescribed procedure for setting up stalls/shops at railway stations, an advertisement was placed in leading newspapers calling for applications. A dozen or so applications were received in response. One of them was a well-known pharmacist of Calcutta called Blue Print that had two big medical stores in the commercial district of Calcutta and was the officially accredited supplier of medicines to Raj Bhavan, the residence of the Governor of West Bengal. Compared to the other applicants, Blue Print was also, commercially, the most viable. Khanna had no hesitation whatever in recommending Blue Print for setting up a medical shop in Howrah. When the recommendation was received in the Eastern Railway’s Commercial headquarters in Koilaghat Street, Khanna got a call from the Dy CCS dealing with the subject. He was asked why he had recommended Blue Print, instead of some other applicant. Khanna replied with his reasons. He was asked to send the whole file of papers to Koilaghat. Once again Khanna was called.

“Why does the list in the file not have the name of Upadhyay Medicals?” he was asked.
“How should I know? You have the names of all those who applied” was his reply.

The head office returned the file, cancelling the selection and ordering fresh invitation of applications. An inspector was deputed to trace out the truant applicant and make him submit his application. When the medical shop was traced out and contacted the owner of Upadhyay Medicals, a small medical shop in Salkia, Howrah was surprised. “Mantriji told me it would be done. I didn’t know I had to apply” he said to the inspector, who got him to sign an application prepared on his behalf. Blue Print was again one of the applicants and Khanna once again recommended them for licensing. There was consternation in the head office when the file reached there. Khanna was asked to change his recommendation, but he stuck to his decision, on the ground that Upadhyay had neither the viability nor the reputation of Blue Print.

Unable to make Khanna bend to his will, the Dy CCS rang up the DS, NN Tandon and asked him to persuade Khanna, but Tandon knew Khanna’s inflexible attitude in such matters. When the file returned, Tandon summoned Khanna and failing to persuade him, suggested that the file be sent to him without any recommendation. Even this went against Khanna’s principles, but eventually he agreed, albeit reluctantly, and sent the file to Tandon, who went out of the way to recommend the licensing of Upadhyay Medicals. It must be one of the rare instances when a DS made a choice without the branch officer’s recommendation.

In course of time, GS Khosla was replaced by PK Madhava Menon from Southern Railway. He was a strict disciplinarian who had worked mostly in the south where employees are generally law abiding. He tried to enforce discipline in his office by acting aggressively against late comers etc. but he got out of favour with trade unions and decided to return to Southern Railway.

In 1961, KK Mukherjee, who had earned a reputation as Dy COPS (Coaching) on Eastern Railway and later as Divisional Superintendent, Allahabad on Northern Railway, was appointed COPS Eastern Railway. Soon afterwards, Mohinder Singh Gujral was posted as Dy COPS (Goods). I met both separately, when they visited Howrah Goods Shed. I made some suggestions to Gujral about running of Super Goods Specials from Howrah which he seemed to appreciate. Asit Bhaduri, DOS (T) Howrah told me later that Gujral had asked his opinion of me and Bhaduri had told him that I had keen eyes!

In May 1962, I took a vacation and we travelled to Mysore, Bangalore, Nagpur and Guntur. I was impressed by the courtesy and respect the Southern Railway staff showed us although I was only a junior officer on a distant railway. On our return journey, we visited Bhedaghat, near Jabalpur, taking a boat through the Marble Rocks. It is no longer possible to do so since the Bargi dam on the Narmada has been completed. When we returned to Howrah, I was transferred to the Operating Department and posted as AOS(T) Sealdah.

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26-Oct-2019
More by :  Ramarao Annavarapu
 
Views: 276      Comments: 7

Comments on this Article

Comment Thank you very much, Anand, Sethumadhavan and Suchitto Das.
Anand, I mentioned that SCRAs earned AMI MechE. I stand corrected about the examinations being conducted by City & Guilds. C & G used to run correspondence courses for AMI MechE. In those days, Engineering Colleges were few. Many aspiring engineers acquired AMIE or AMI MechE which were as good as BE or BTech.
Sethu, good to hear from a non railwayman.

Ramarao Annavarapu
11/03/2019 00:36 AM

Comment I had the privilege of working with the author in my early years. His intellectual disposition and abiding interest in the history of the Indian Railways have resulted in a number of seminal works on the subject. Like his other works this write-up provides valuable insight into the working of the Railways in general and of Howrah Division in particular where I had the opportunity to work as Sr. DCS and Sr.DOS in the mid 90s. I look forward to reading about Sealdah Division in the 60s.

Suchitto Kumar Das
11/02/2019 08:49 AM

Comment A very detailed account of the Author's early days.

Special Class Railway Apprentices had to pass the examinations conducted by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, London.
This was considered as being equivalent to a degree in Engineering, not only in the UK and commonwealth but even in the USA.

Many of my batch mates got admission to post graduate courses in USA
and went as Teaching Assistants.

Some of the SCRAs also passed the examinations conducted by the Institution of Production Eng

Venkateswaran Anand
10/29/2019 00:08 AM

Comment Thank you Chenulu garu. About signalling department, you could be right. I will get back to you after a check. On Eastern Railway I knew signalling officers who started their careers as apprentices in Jamalpur.

Thank you, KK Choudhury. When NN Tandon was GM NFR, there was an agitation started by the Oficers' Association to which he lent his support. Do you recall the details.

Ramarao Annavarapu
10/28/2019 01:01 AM

Comment Quite narrative and interesting. Perhaps, some details could be left out to make it more focused. The discusstion on corruption in railways is of particular interest. So also, the tracing of the history of pre- independent recruits. All in all, makes delightful reading for all, especially for civil servants, including for those from non-railway establishments. Thank you for taking pains to pen your memoirs in such a pleasant and enjoyable manner.

Sethumadhavan
10/28/2019 00:56 AM

Comment a very detailed and incisive narration of the origins of departmentalism,on the railways (alas! it never ceased) told with with wit and no rancor. For some time the first and second rankers of roorkhee were inducted to the irse without any public exam.

v.c.v.chenulu
10/27/2019 07:56 AM

Comment Excellent and interesting.
Having joined IRTS in 1966 , and having been basically a comml officer,I find yr narrative almost familiar.Only change that is stark is that we have now become more pliable and spine less, be it Ghy,GKP, NDLS and Bd.
Second, interdental rivalry is still at its peak and IRTS keeps itself busy fighting amongst itself and condemnig/undermining other than Optg officers.
And finally Nntandon happened to be GM /NFR when I joined there.

Kkchaudhary
10/27/2019 02:28 AM




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