Memories of a Receding Past: 40

Back to Delhi

This was my third assignment in Delhi. From the 1970s to 1990s, almost in every decade I came to Delhi on a posting and every time I had problems in having a house of my entitlement allotted to me. There was so much of corruption. A batch-mate of mine told me he had been asked to pay up Rs. 70000 as bribe to get a government house of his entitlement. He said even the minister was in it. Seeing all this I gave up pursuing the matter and eventually I was allotted a flat on first floor on Vinay Marg in Chanakyapuri meant for deputy secretaries whereas I was of the rank of a joint secretary having hit the top of the scale three years earlier.

Transfers were, therefore, a sackful of troubles. And this was my 12th transfer in the career span of 29 years. I hardly ever resisted a transfer though it was always troublesome, mostly in respect of residential accommodation. My wife, who had to face the establishment problems, was always very accommodative and never threw up any tantrums because of the difficulties she came up against. The house that we got this time was a two-bedroom affair and by every means was too small for an officer of thirty years’ service. But then there was nothing that I could do about it.

On this transfer we faced another problem. Our truck loaded with household goods and the Maruti 800 car took inordinately long time to come from Shillong. Inquiries revealed that LK Advani’s Rath Yatra was the culprit. The chief minister of Bihar, Lalu Prasad Yadav, had sealed the state in a bid to prevent Advani from passing through to Ayodhya. As a result our truck was held up on the eastern border of Bihar for as many as 15 days. Though many trucks were victims of vandalism ours somehow escaped unharmed. A fortnight of anxiety thus ended but during this time we stayed cooped up in one room in the departmental guest house. After the beautiful well ventilated house that we had at Shillong it was quite a climbdown.

In the house that we were to occupy, however, we were surprised to see peacocks having free run of it. Behind the Vinay Marg colony there was a drain which had thick vegetation on its two banks that hosted the peacock community. Within two years, however, they disappeared as the place was built over for police personnel. Nonetheless, the Nehru Park was easily accessible as was the Yeshwant Place and Chanakya Takies.

I have already mentioned my first brush with the Secretary who was from our Service and was five years senior to me. Over time, however, our relations improved appreciably. He was happy with my efforts to work in accordance with the manual of office procedure as also the promptness that I submitted the cases. My immediate boss, however, was the Member of the Postal Board in-charge of Personnel. But the Secretary was more active. With the two immediate bosses I had to put in extra hours and was generally in the office even on Sundays also.

The paper work was so heavy that I wouldn’t have time in the office to look at the dak that used to be in a thick folder. I had to bring the whole thing home and work on them after a cup of tea with my wife. Personnel Branch had to deal with a large number of writ petitions filed from all over the country and they used to come to us when a petitioner or respondent would file an appeal in the Supreme Court. Not only did we have to prepare replies and get them vetted by the nominated Additional Solicitor General we had to be present in the Supreme Court on the day of hearing. This took away a lot of time and would build up pressure. No wonder my blood pressure would always remain elevated.

In the midst of such a busy schedule I had taken upon myself to revise the rules for promotion into the cadre of inspectors and from there to the Group B cadres of the department. The idea was to quicken the promotions and to get bright youngsters who would be able to serve longer durations in higher cadres with chances of promotion into Group A. I had discussed the matter with the Department of Personnel where the Joint Secretary was a long lost friend. As he vetted it I submitted it to Secretary who put it before the Board. It had taken almost three years to cocretise the proposals and when I left the Postal Board it was still pending with the Department of Personnel.

There was one good thing about the Secretary and that was he wouldn’t mind if one told him that his orders would not be carried out for not being in accordance with the government’s instructions. In one case in which he wanted to appoint an officer on ad hoc basis as Member of the Board I had to tell him that I would not sign such an order as approval of the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet was essential. When the file went to him he asked me whether there was anybody who would sign the order. On my telling him that there was none, he signed the order himself. A month later a stinker came from the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet warning the Department never to act in breach of established procedures.

The Secretary had fallen foul of the Minister who in those days was Late Rajesh Pilot. I do not know what went wrong between the two but the latter had him removed to the Cabinet Secretariat in a post that was sinecure for a few months that were left before his superannuation. So, piles of files submitted to the Secretary over a period of a few months came back from the minister. Apparently, the files were submitted for the minister’s orders in which no suggestion were recorded for the course of action to be taken.

Resultantly, I had a new secretary – in fact, two new secretaries one after the other. Both were former members who used to be my bosses. I had, therefore, no problem with the change of regime.

During the tenure as Deputy Director General I was selected in 1992 for a consultancy in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania by Universal Postal Union, the specialized agency of the UN for postal matters. It was a consultancy for six weeks and I was to spend two weeks in each country. Soon after completion of the consultancy I was transferred again – this time as Chief Postmaster General of West Bengal, Sikkim & the UT of Andaman & Nicobar Islands even though I could sniff a promotion for me in the near future. But then that is how the governments function. I don’t know till today whether it was a contrived transfer to accommodate somebody in my place. So after pushing papers up and down for three years my wife and I proceeded to Calcutta to work in the state to which my parents belonged and the language of which we had been speaking at home since birth.


More by :  Proloy Bagchi

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