After a few months, Divisional Superintendent Dhanbad, SN Sachdev began to talk to me directly, although he continued to be testy and fault finding, despite the visible advances in all aspects of operations. Like most operating officers, I would wake up early and be on the telephone the whole morning, with a cup of tea beside me. During this time, I would collect information from the control office, important stations and marshalling yards about the status of operations. Sachdev would call me around 8 AM with his critical remarks. Even on the day we broke the previous record of handing over freight trains at Manpur, with all of us, including Piyush Sarkar AOS (T) and KK Hans AEE (Operations) standing behind the train controller of Grand Chord up to midnight, Sachdev’s reaction was mild. On the other hand, on a day when a series of untoward incidents beyond our control, including theft of overhead traction wire at several places, affected operations he had no hesitation in haranguing me.
There was only one area where he became less demanding. It was in my function of drafting the ten-day PCDO (Periodical Confidential Demi Official letter) each DS wrote to the General Manager thrice a month. When KK Mukherjee was GM Eastern Railway, all DSs tried to please him not only by flaunting their achievements, big and small, in the PCDOs but also phrasing them in an attractive language. KK Mukherjee had tried to improve the sagging financial position of Eastern Railway with measures like massive ticket checking, marketing efforts to win back traffic lost to road transport and economy in expenditure. In Asansol Division, Gujral had adopted a system of involving all station staff in collecting tickets at stations. Overaged steam locomotives were condemned, and many working steam locomotives were put in Good Repair Store (GRS). Strength of staff was reduced wherever possible. Gujral introduced the concept of multitasking at stations and other divisions tried to follow. The PCDOs recounted the efforts made by each division to meet the expectations of the GM. KK Mukherjee picked items from them for inclusion in his own PCDO to Chairman Railway Board.
DSs vied with each other to catch KK's eye with a turn of phrase or the use of an idiom. Most of them thought that only arts graduates were capable of writing good English. Although it was the responsibility of DOSs to draft the PCDO after collecting materials from other departments, they entrusted the covering letter to other branch officers. At first, Sachdev would return my drafts with a lot of corrections and queries. It would take several attempts to get him to sign the PCDO. Since I was from the science stream, he felt that I did not know anything about drafting. He trusted my batchmates, MP Shrivastava and MMP Sinha DCS, who were arts graduates, although they were not literary experts by any stretch of imagination. But as time passed and I established myself, he began to approve my drafts without demur.
It was a bad time for law and order and industrial relations. The unrest in West Bengal had spread to the neighbouring states. In Bombay, George Fernandez had developed a new trade union technique called Ghera Dalo, to lay a siege on Sachivalaya, the seat of Maharastra state government. This was taken up and perfected by the leftist trade unions in West Bengal and in Bihar and renamed Gherao. Workers in factories, collieries etc. would surround and confine their managers, forcing them to stay without food or drink and even visiting a toilet until their demands were met. The police could not interfere as the law did not provide for this kind of eventuality. The only way to rescue the gheraoed manager was to file a FIR against the manager. The police then arrested the manager and took him away, breaking the gherao but it took a long time to go through the whole procedure, during which the manager had to go through a harrowing time. While we were holding the enquiry in Daltonganj news came of a gherao in Patratu. The child of a railway employee working in the diesel loco shed had died and workers blamed it on the callousness of local railway doctors. They went to the office of Harimohan, DME (Diesel) Patratu, placed the child's body on his table and gheraoed him demanding the presence of DS personally, to hear their grievances. Poor Harimohan was confined for almost 24 hours before he was released with joint efforts of DS, DPO, DMO and the police.
Unlike MS Gujral, Sachdev did not like to have confrontation with the trade unions, even the unrecognized ones. In the course of reviewing operations one morning, I came across a case in which the guard had deserted his post and the freight train had to be stabled (parked in the loop line of a railway station without a locomotive). I gave telephonic orders to place the guard under suspension. When I went to the office, I found that there was a furore because the guard happened to be an office bearer of the unrecognized Guards’ Association. Shrivastava told me that the DS was unhappy at my action. I was forced to reverse my orders.
There was rampant theft of railway materials. It ranged from pilferage of small quantities of permanent way, signalling materials and wagon parts to truck loads of coal from trains held up at signals, or disabled otherwise, and copper wires of overhead telephone lines. The most daring and operationally detrimental theft was that of wires from 25 KV overhead traction lines, occurring at a frequency three to four times a week. On one occasion, Katrasgarh yard was isolated for several hours due to three OHE wire thefts on the lines connecting the yard to adjacent stations and the Grand Chord. We wondered how the robbers managed to steal the live high voltage wires. The mystery was cleared when one of the miscreants was electrocuted during an attempted robbery. His charred body was found clutching a bamboo pole which had a hook at one end. From the hook hung an insulated wire leading to an earthing device on the ground. Apparently, he had climbed one of the wagons to engage the hook with the catenary (as the live overhead wire is called) to earth it. Once earthed, the catenary would trip and the line would go dead, making the rest of the operation easy. On that fateful day, there was a slight drizzle that made the thief’s body a conductor and the high voltage electrocuted him. It was a tribute to the dedication and hard work of everyone in the division that we took all these incidents in our stride and marched forward to achieve better results.
Shrivastava was away for a two-month period during which I had to double as DOS & DSO. While it saved me from the daily machinations of Shrivastava, it placed a severe strain on me that showed up in the form of fever. I continued to work from home without reporting sick, because I did not want Sachdev to feel that I was shirking my responsibility. I told Piyush to inform him of my condition. One day an accident occurred, and I asked AOS Chaturvedi to report it to DS as I was sick. Sachdev refused to talk to him and when I called him, he told me rudely that he didn't know that I was sick. I was quite upset and said I was no longer available as I was reporting sick and left the phone. I called the DMO who had been treating me and asked him to place me on the sick list.
However, there was another, more serious accident a couple of days later that I had to attend. It was a major derailment of a goods train involving the loco and 24 wagons at Rajhara, a station near Daltonganj, on the Barkakana loop, and the fastest way to reach there was by a ten-hour long road journey. I decided to forget my sickness and join the officers leaving for the site at 10 PM. Indu wouldn’t let me go but she agreed when I arranged for her to travel in a carriage the next day to join me at the site of accident. It was a tiring and strenuous time at the accident site, and I was glad to see Indu when she arrived with baby Ratna and Pama. Her presence at the site calmed me and helped me to meet the tensions and challenges of the arduous work over three days.
We returned to Dhanbad, leaving AOS Chaturvedi and AME (C & W) Bose to clear the Daltonganj station of the remnant wagons and accident relief equipment. The next day, just when BP Agarwal and I were setting out for Daltonganj to hold an enquiry into the accident at Rajhara, we got tidings of a mishap there during shunting in which the carriage in which Chaturvedi and Bose were staying was damaged and both were injured. Chaturvedi was lucky to escape with minor cuts and bruises but Bose broke a leg and was admitted to the district hospital. Mrs Bose was very apprehensive about her husband and, refusing to accept our assurances, insisted on joining us with her son. At Daltonganj we stopped at the level crossing near the North Cabin to cross the railway tracks to go to the hospital. I climbed into the cabin to get the latest news on Bose and was shocked to hear that he had expired. As I returned to the taxi Mrs Bose began to wail on seeing my drained face even before I spoke. We took Bose's body back to Dhanbad for the last rites and resumed our enquiry only after he was cremated.
BM Khanna was Coal Area Superintendent (CAS) and MMP Sinha was Divisional Commercial Superintendent (DCS) when I joined Dhanbad Division. When the post of CAS was upgraded to Junior Administrative Grade, Aniruddha Choudhury IRTS 1955 was posted as CAS in place of Khanna who took over as DCS from Sinha. Sometime after the incidents described above, Sachdev went on a brief spell of leave and I had to hold charge of the division. On two occasions the burden of taking tough decisions fell on me and I was happy that I took the right decisions. At Dugda, staff went on a wild cat strike after the death of a child in the colony, blaming the death on inattention by doctors in the Washery Hospital under Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL). I sent DMO, DPO and the Security Officer to calm the staff and make them return to work. Meanwhile I kept talking to the leaders and Washery officials to get the matter sorted out. The staff gave up the strike even before the party of officers reached Dugda.
A large tank called Bekar Bandh was the railway's source of water for steam locomotives. The local polytechnic located nearby was the scene of gory murders after a group of students teased some girls in the bazaar and families of the offended girls raided the hostel of the polytechnic to teach the boys a lesson. In the violence that ensued the students were reported to have killed several raiders and thrown some of the bodies in the tank. After fishing out some bodies the police decided to drain out the water from the tank to see if there were any more bodies lying in the tank and asked for railway's permission to do so. It meant shutting down steam services for an indefinite period. In the event, police cooperated by finishing the work quickly without affecting operations, finding several bodies in the process.
Srikant was promoted to Class 6 in January 1969. When I was transferred to Dhanbad in June that year we decided not to disturb his education by changing school in mid-session once again. VV Rao, who worked in the Coke Oven Plant in Indian Iron and Steel Company (IISCO), Burnpur, and his wife were gracious enough to let him live with them till the end of the school session in December 1969. Srikant would travel to Dhanbad for the week ends and eagerly wait to have a meal with me but more often than not I couldn't fulfill his wish. For the next session, I got him admitted to De Nobili school in Digwadi. He would leave home at 7 AM by the school bus and return at 3 PM. Oftentimes, he would sit up late, with his books scattered on the dining table, waiting patiently for me to finish talking on the telephone so that I could help him with his homework. Our fourth child, Ratnasri was born in the early hours of October 22, 1969, the day following Vijaya Dasami. At two, Pama was a joy to watch and seven-year old Ramana had begun going to school so we were a happy family, but my work kept me too busy to fully enjoy family life.
We had many Andhra friends in Dhanbad, although I couldn’t find much time to spend with them. M Ramakrishna whom I had met in 1958 was now in the Indian School of Mines and in the Coal Board there was UN Sarma. Toraga Subrahmanyam was a mining engineer with Bird & Co. Another old friend from 1958 was AN Sharma, who was now into coal agency among other things. I also made new friends in the Coal Washery organization of Hindusthan Steel, among them BK Agarwal and Karnani.
By the end of March 1970, coal loading in Dhanbad division had beaten all previous records. I was in no mood to continue to bear with the tantrums of Sachdev who, far from appreciating the achievement, continued to nag me on one issue or another. When the post of Senior Transportation Officer (Coal Allotment), STO (Allotment) for short, fell vacant I threw my hat in the ring and requested D Hariram, Joint Director (Coal) to help me get the post. He tried to dissuade me saying that I was doing very well on the field, but I persisted. I told him that I found it impossible to work with Sachdev. He was good enough to persuade BLC Sastry COPS to accede to my request.
I did not tell Sachdev about my conversation with Hariram, but I guess he had his sources of information. He did not stop me and seemed satisfied to get MP Shrivastava to replace me as DOS. Shrivastava, pleased as Puck, signed the charge papers promptly and suggested we should meet the DS jointly. I warned him against it but went along at his insistence. This time Shrivastava got an unexpected reception. He was curtly asked why he was wasting his time instead of being in the control office!
In the farewell party arranged for me by the operating department that evening I was seated beside Sachdev. He asked me why I had to leave in such a hurry and I realised, for the first time, that it was his way of commending my work. I told him I wanted to learn more about procedures and operations in respect of coal loading. I didn’t know then that I would have a long association with him right up to his retirement and beyond.