Curtain Calls: Big and Small

It was generally believed that MK Sinha, Divisional Superintendent Howrah, was involved in underhand deals and that he nurtured his political connections with Bihari Congress politicians. When he was DS Dinapore, he had actively cultivated Railway Minister Lalit Narayan Misra and become so powerful that he could even threaten officers of the civil service and police. He was rabidly biased against leftist trade unions and became their sworn enemy during the George Fernandes sponsored Railway strike in 1974, when he had unleashed a reign of terror against strikers, leaders of the leftist trade union and their families.

When I was in Delhi on deputation to Fertilizer Corporation of India in 1972-75, I was a regular visitor to Rail Bhavan. On one such visit, I found officers in the Traffic Directorate agitated because the Railway Minister had ordered the transfer of Capt R Srinivasan, Chief Operating Superintendent, Eastern Railway to NF Railway. At that time, only General Managers were provided with Air-Conditioned Inspection Carriages. Minister for Railways and Minister of State for Railways would travel in First AC except when they accompanied GM in his Inspection Carriage. MK Sinha convinced LN Misra that he could order Eastern Railway to provide him with the General Manager’s AC carriage to travel from Patna to Delhi. On behalf of the Minister, Sinha asked Additional COPS (Coaching) ER to send GM's Inspection Carriage to Patna for the purpose. The latter informed COPS ER, Capt R Srinivasan, who promptly quoted the rules and refused permission. A furious Misra sent a note to CRB complaining against Srinivasan and asking for his transfer to NF Railway. BM Kaul, Member Traffic Railway Board, rose to Srinivasan's defence and Srinivasan stayed on ER. Later, the rules were modified to let the ministers use AC carriages. This incident made MK Sinha very unpopular with traffic officers. He was on leave when Emergency was declared and immediately afterwards, he was posted as DS Howrah.

Sinha used to speak to the Deputy Chief Controllers at 6 AM every morning to review the performance of the Division on the previous day. He would issue peremptory orders to punish staff for lapses that caused loss of punctuality of passenger trains and other failures reported to him by the Deputy Chief Controllers. At the same time, Sinha showed unusual interest in the supply wagons to some stone quarries in the Jamalpur area. With all opposition leaders and Union leaders of the leftist unions in jail, leaders of the Congress-backed trade union Eastern Railway Mens' Congress (ERMC), had a field day indulging in acts of corruption, nepotism and favouritism. Sinha actively encouraged Bihari ERMC leaders.

RK Sinha, who controlled the ERMC in Sahibganj became a regular visitor in MK Sinha's room. Based on his demands, MK Sinha would call Branch Officers on the intercom and ask them to do one thing or the other, so much so that RK Sinha became known as de facto DS for Sahibganj loop. RK Sinha was upset when I did not implement some of his wishes conveyed through the DS. He came to see MK Sinha one day and complained against me. Sinha called me on the intercom to question me. I told him that if RK Sinha has an issue with the operating department he should contact me and not the DS, so he may send RK to my room. Stumped for an answer, Sinha sent him to me.

I ordered coffee and told RK that as a union leader he had a right to approach me for favours and as a Branch Officer it was my duty to listen to him. But all favours could not be granted even if the DS asked me, so it was better for him to keep good relations with me instead of trying to get DS to order me. RK Sinha did not bother me after that but tried to damage the career of one of my TIs called BK Majumdar, who belonged to the leftist union and opposed his schemes for making money. RK Sinha engineered a false complaint against Majumdar, accusing him of accepting bribes for appointing as substitutes.

Absenteeism is a common problem at railway stations and train operations can come to a halt if the absentee employee is not replaced immediately. To provide for such eventualities, station masters had a list of approved candidates available locally. Most of them were unemployed youth from nearby villages. Usually, they began as domestic help to the families of station staff, during which time they were exposed to the work done by group D employees. In due course, they were employed as substitutes. Since they came from poor families in the village, the only compensation station masters, barring a few unscrupulous ones, expected from them was to help on the domestic front whenever required. To curb corruption and prevent station masters from employing substitutes in excess of requirement, the power to approve the names of substitutes was withdrawn from local supervisors. The list had to be scrutinized by the divisional office and approved personally by the Divisional Superintendent.

For RK Sinha, this was fertile ground for his avarice. Flaunting his proximity to the DS, he collected money for enlisting substitutes, with the promise that the DS would approve the names at his bidding and insisted that supervisors use the substitutes only from his list. BK Majumdar demurred and was singled out for retribution. On receiving the complaint, MK Sinha insisted on placing Majumdar under suspension. I told Majumdar not to worry and speeded up the disciplinary action against him to exonerate him. Simultaneously, I included his name in the list of candidates selected as Senior Transportation Inspectors.

MK Sinha's transgressions eventually caught up with him in a vigilance investigation initiated when he was DS DNR. Several serious charges, ranging from misuse of powers to nepotism and bribery were established and Sinha was issued with a major penalty charge sheet proposing removal from service. Sinha tried to wriggle out of it in many ways but even his political connections could not get the charge sheet cancelled or the charges reduced. The only relief he could get from his political mentors was that, if he sought voluntary retirement the charges would be dropped but his gratuity would be lost, because he could not get a certificate of efficient and honest service. He opted for the lesser alternative and left the division in disgrace. All his old colleagues and friends deserted him, and he cut a sorry figure when the publicity loving MK Sinha and his wife boarded the train for Patna sans farewells, sans bouquets and sans photos. Only SK Sinha Sr Divisional Engineer and I bade him a somber goodbye.

In January 1977, the government lifted the Emergency, released all political detainees including trade union leaders and called for elections. Sparse crowds gathering under the Congress flag - in contrast to the massive crowds drawn by Mrs Gandhi in the past - were an indication of things to come. An interesting sidelight of this election was an election tour of the Railway Minister Kamalapati Tripathi to Calcutta. Desperate to win votes by hook or by crook, Tripathi announced a series of popular measures. But the feedback gave no hope. On his journey back to Delhi, the Minister's special stopped at almost every station in Bihar and UP & small groups of followers who turned up to garland Tripathi and shout muted slogans, placed impossible demands on the Minister that he promptly agreed to. If his party had won, Kalka Mail would probably have been diverted via Patna with stoppages at every alternate station. The opposition won a thumping victory with Congress stalwarts, including Mrs Gandhi, suffering huge defeats.

The new Railway Minister was Madhu Dandavate, a dyed in the wool trade unionist and long-time Indira baiter. BM Kaul, a Kashmiri Pandit close to the Nehru family, who was already on extension beyond superannuation, quit and was replaced by EJ Simoes. The new GM ER was an IRSE officer called VCA Padmanabhan known equally for his prowess as an engineer and popularity with staff. In Howrah, MK Sinha's successor was Ranjit Bannerjee IRSE 1954, my old friend from Asansol. Sachdev also moved to Railway Board as Director Traffic (Transportation) to be replaced by the extremely kind and pleasant ML Gupta.

I accompanied the new GM on his first visit to Howrah division during which he constantly recalled the good work done by my good friend K Neelakantan IRTS 1957, who had been his DOS when VCA Padmanabhan was DS Waltair. Wherever he went, VCA would be surrounded by staff with petitions for getting their grievances removed. VCA would patiently accept all the petitions and pass them on to his secretariat, where they would be registered and followed up.

With the release of trade union leaders, the leftist unions became active and suburban commuters, who had suspended their frequent agitations fearing the use of Emergency powers by government, now resumed their old methods of drawing attention to themselves. I had an early taste of this one evening when commuters stopped all trains because a suburban train had been held up at Belur while Coalfield Express sped past on an adjoining track. The new dispensation was to follow the commuters wishes ignoring the needs of freight movement. For the first few months after Emergency things continued to move due to the momentum of the previous months but as the leftist trade unions and un-recognised category-wise associations began to assert themselves and get the approval of Railway Board for every kind of proposal, unmindful of its implications, operations slowed down irrevocably.

In May 1977 I took leave to attend a family wedding. Before leaving I requested ML Gupta COPS to post me elsewhere and he agreed to take me to Fairlie Place as Dy COPS (Planning). Following the success of providing platform aprons in Bandel, I had arranged for blocks for completing similar long delayed works in Howrah. After work was completed on two platforms dealing with Eastern Railway trains, I arranged for the work on Platform No. 12, dealing with SE Railway trains. It involved detailed coordination and close monitoring with Khargpur Division of SE Rly. I got the work started and satisfied myself that the scheme was working before going on leave.

A few weeks into my leave, I received a telegram from RK Bannerjee DS Howrah asking me to return urgently. When I called him on phone, he told me that the division was without a Sr DOS and that the operations were in a mess. He urged me to return immediately. On my return, I was surprised to see my train being received on Platform No. 12. SS informed me that the work had been cancelled by SE Rly after a train by which Menezes, GM SE Rly (who was later Chairman Railway Board) had arrived had been held up outside the station. It was ironical that Menezes was a civil engineer, one of the ilk that get platform apron works sanctioned and complain when they do not get traffic blocks to complete them!

Back in Howrah division I found Guharaja Dy DS handling operations. Subol Halder had moved from DSO to DOS Sahibganj. Unable to comprehend the nuances of operations, Guharaja and Halder had between them brought freight operations to a standstill. Halder blamed it on what he called "lack of clarity in line of command". He said he was confused by getting conflicting instructions from Dy DS and Dy COPS (Goods). It took me a week to get the division back to normal after which I went to meet COPS. ML Gupta regretted that he could not keep his promise and asked me to carry on until another opportunity presented itself.

Swapan Kumar Choudhury, Kamlesh Kumar Shrivastav and Shankar Ghosh IRTS 1975, were posted to Howrah division for training. Shankar Ghosh left the railways but both Swapan and Kamlesh were successful IRTS officers. Swapan worked with me later when I was DRM Howrah in 1987-89.

During this period, I got to see another side of VCA Padmanabhan, who was generally seen as pro staff. At Rampurhat, one train guard went on hunger strike without notice because some of his untenable claims for overtime etc. had not been cleared. VCA called RK Bannerjee and told him to take a firm stand on the issue. Following GM’s suggestion, a FIR was lodged against the guard for attempting suicide. The police arrested him and sent him to civil hospital where he was forced to end his strike. This incident proved an important lesson to me for later use.

But I was hurt by VCA's next move.

One morning, RK called me on the intercom and said there was an order in his dak pad posting JC Kalra, a 1956 batch IRSME officer as DS Mughal Sarai.

“Isn’t he junior to you?” RK asked.

When I answered in the affirmative, RK asked me to meet GM and lodge a protest.

The question of seniority between officers of different departments arose only when they were considered for appointment to general posts like Divisional Superintendents and General Managers. Our seniority was based on the date of entry into the Class I Service. Examinations for recruitment to the civil services, including IRTS, were conducted by the Union Public Service Commission every year during September and those for engineering services, including IRSE and IRSME were conducted in December every year. It took over a year for the government to issue appointment orders based on the selections. I took the examination in September 1956 and joined in November 1957 whereas JC Kalra had appeared for the examination in December 1956 and joined in March 1958.

A few months earlier, my batchmate SP Singha, who was Jt Director Traffic had called to tell me that a new panel of DSs had been prepared by Railway Board and that our batchmates, including Singha and me, were on the panel. Later, we were told that MM and ME had not approved the panel as there were few IRSE and IRSME officers on it and they were all at the bottom of the panel. Railway Board had, therefore, decided that no postings would be made from the panel. Instead, GM's were authorised to make ad hoc arrangements based on the panel.

VCA Padmanabhan defended his action saying that he was sure that if he had offered the post to me, I would not have agreed to go to Mughal Sarai. I told him that he should not have assumed my refusal and that I was disappointed that he had not consulted me before issuing orders.

A few days later, Sachdev DTT called asking for my consent to be posted as Joint Director, Rail Movement at Mughal Sarai. I readily agreed. Sachdev called back to tell me that when the proposal was put up to MT, Simoes told him that I wanted to go to SC Rly. Indeed, I had requested Simoes for transfer to SC Rly when I saw him off at Howrah station, but had not expected that anything would come of it. I had been asking for SC Railway ever since it was formed in 1966, but my request was not accepted. I told Sachdev that I would go to SC Rly when the Railway Board found it possible to post me but meanwhile, I did not want to be on ER where my junior was posted as a Divisional Superintendent.

I moved to Mughal Sarai in November 1977. Around this time RK Bannerjee got selected for a post in Bangladesh and as luck would have it, I left the division on the very day his successor SK Gupta IRSE took over as DS. Gupta was DEN III in Asansol when I was there in 1962 and had moved to Dhanbad when that division was formed in 1964. He begged me to stay but I had made up my mind and left as scheduled.

With this instalment of my memoirs, I have covered the first twenty years of my service on Indian Railways. I am grateful to my readers for their encouraging response and their complimentary comments on the website and messages on email and WhatsApp.

Many readers have suggested that I should publish my memoirs in book form. Acceding to this request, I have decided to stop posting further articles on my memoirs and instead focus on completing the book, which I hope will be ready soon after the present lockdown ends.


More by :  Ramarao Annavarapu

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Views: 3651      Comments: 6

Comment Thank you very much, KK Choudhary, Gurudas, Madhukar Sinha and Chandramouli for your encouraging comments. KK, I can count many honest Biharis, including you among my friends. Your comments make them that much more precious.
Thank you Chenulu garu. There is another a contradiction in your observation. How can one who is ruthless with one set of employees be considered "pro labour by conviction". Did I miss something?

13-May-2020 07:45 AM

Comment this is an excellent narration.i was with mk sinha during the period of 1974 srike and saw at close hand his ruthless handling.can be compared with churchill for his mastery in war type situation. politics and corruption got his due nemesis.
had his faults
while others pampered labour unions both recognised and unrecognised, as pilitically expedient, he was pro labour by conviction. a great man!
briefly touched were ineterdepatmental seniority and wonder if it is resolved properly.

12-May-2020 09:16 AM

Comment Thanks for sharing your experiences and offering nice inputs.You have an exquisite narrative technique at your command and weave incidents and events into fragrant garlands.Bouquets too were there, mercifully no brickbats.VCA was on SCRly for a while.
I was studying first form in Hyderabad when you started your career on Indian Railways.I never imagined that I would join Indian Railways.
We miss you very much,sir.Please start some other form of communication through this portal? Best regard

T.S.Chandra Mouli
05-May-2020 11:53 AM

Comment Missing your further postings. Good luck to writing the book.

Gurudas S
04-May-2020 02:50 AM

Comment I shall be eagerly awaiting your book. If I may be bold to suggest that for general readers a little bit of more explanation may be necessary as some sections of your memoirs were difficult to follow because of the operating nuances of earlier times that were unintelligible to me as a next generation Accounts Officer. I think I can understand most of the issues related to operations today but the challenges of earlier days were much more serious.

Madhukar Sinha
03-May-2020 10:44 AM

Comment Going through yr memoirs makes me wonder if the same style of Rly wkg is not continuing even today.

Right from my sr scale in1970 till1980 I wked on NFR and was privy to the wkg of DS, HODS, GMS and a few MRs.I am a Bihari and hence had a political fallout with the MR ,LNM.
Iam sorry to say that most of them were not clean whether a DS, Hod,GMs and even MR.As individuals I found them to be good ,but corrupt and ,they tolerated if not directry promoted dubious dealings.
And all were FROM IRTS

kk chaudhary
03-May-2020 07:58 AM

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