The Bellary Main Branch - The Trade Unionism of a Different Kind!
Bellary Main branch was facing lot of problems due to total negative approach of the Union leaders working there. It was a “C” grade branch. The Senior Manager (SM) and a Sub-Manager were trying their level best to improve the situation. The Bank had also provided adequate staff at the branch. The Canara Bank Employees’ Union representing workmen was recognized and negotiations at the apex level used to take place periodically for the smooth functioning of the Bank. But the Union leaders here had their own style of working according to their own whims and fancies. Their motto - cause maximum inconvenience to the Officers! But according to SM there were no branch level issues.
Led by their Union leaders, the staff had their own schedule of working. The branch was to start officially by 10.30 AM. The staff would arrive by that time. But they would not occupy their seats. They would discuss in groups all the events of the previous day. The discussion would also cover the current affairs based on the morning news. The Bellary clientele of Canara Bank were well accustomed to the attitude of the branch staff. They would visit the branch only after 11 AM! There was an arrangement for supply of coffee at the branch. But the staff would go out one by one for enjoying a Kadak Chai (Strong Tea) and pan at 12 PM. The customers had to simply wait till they got back to their seats. There was no way of persuading them as according to them they were ‘ruling’ the branch!
Even though the official lunch break was for half an hour, the staff would take another 15-30 minutes for pan eating or cigarette smoking. Even though the official closing time was at 5.30 PM, they would stop working and leave the office by 5 PM itself. The worst part of their agenda was - misplacing or destroying of vouchers (slips) and certain daily records that would hold up the preparation of Trial Balance and Day Book. The whole idea was to give maximum trouble and headache to the Officers for no fault of theirs. There were some clerks who were efficient and had positive attitude. But they were not allowed to co-operate with the Officers. The SM had brought the state of affairs to the notice of the higher authorities. But he was advised to handle the matter tactfully at the branch level!
The Branch Meeting and the Silent (Mouth-Sealed) Staff!
As the Inspection was coming to an end, BGR suggested calling for a Branch Meeting. But the other members of his team felt that it may not be of any use and on the other hand they may have to face those leaders and perhaps their abuses too. BGR assured them that he would handle the situation. The staff meeting was convened by the SM. He commenced the meeting and told the staff about the observations made by the inspectors and sought their co-operation in improving the internal work and the customer service at the branch. Then BGR addressed the meeting. He told them that the branch was quite an old one and the location of the branch was very good for increasing the business. He also told them about the inconvenience faced by the officers in day-to-day working for lack of adequate support and the extra time they had to put in to complete the internal work. The same time would have been otherwise utilized by them for the business development of the branch. BGR welcomed the views of the staff members. But there was absolutely no response and everybody just kept quiet.
BGR further cajoled them and asked why they were not one with the Officers as far as day-to-day working was concerned and whether they have any specific grievances/issues to be sorted out. Again none of them opened their mouth. Further, BGR asked them whether they were happy to work in a branch which was graded “C” Unsatisfactory or do they want the same to be improved. Again there was no response. BGR then concluded that they had come with a plan - not to open their mouth! The SM then suggested closing the meeting. It was a pity that the workmen were stabbing the back of their own Officers! But they called it their spirit of Trade Unionism!
The Regional Inspectorate graded the branch “B” satisfactory. This upgradation was due to the hard and determined work and business progress made by the SM and a Sub-Manager and also due to maximum rectification of the observations made by them during the course of Inspection.
Shahbad – The Stinking Village Branch
Shahbad was a village branch in Gulbarga District. The operating station for this branch was Gulbarga from where BGR had to travel 17 KMs by train as the roads were very bad. Some of the morning trains would not stop at Shahbad. About 75 people used to generally travel to Shahbad from Gulbarga in the morning daily. If the train was not having a stop at Shahbad, some of the regular commuters would go to the driver and request with folded hands to stop. Some drivers would oblige by stopping for a minute not on the platform track but on the other track. One had to jump down and walk to the main platform. Some drivers would not oblige. Regular commuters would know in such cases as the driver would not slow down. The commuters would then pull the chain as the train approached Shahbad. The train would stop and then all of them would get down. The driver knew who the culprits were but he would not enquire. He would simply start the train and proceed. However, while returning this trick would not work and commuters had to wait for the train which would stop at Shahbad.
BGR had never seen a village like Shahbad. The entire village headquarters where the branch was situated was so dirty, dusty and unhygienic. Within two minutes of walking, the shoes and pants up to knee would get soiled and dust would cover your face. The road was full of mud which was like Fevicol. BGR could not walk straight and after each step he had to examine the depth of the soil and then put the next step. It was a delicate balancing act! Actually the branch was located about three-minute walking distance from Railway Station but the journey used to take about 8 minutes. There was absolutely no sanitation and pigs were roaming everywhere. Somehow BGR reached the branch 15 minutes prior to the opening of the branch.
The Secret of the Closed Window - Pigs on Duty Here!
The look of the branch was pathetic. It never looked like a branch of the Bank. Only the sign board helped in confirming that the Shahbad branch was located there. The branch Manager who was from Bangalore was sitting in his small enclosure. BGR introduced himself along with his colleague. The Manager asked them to sit. BGR was feeling unbearable stinking smell and he asked the Manager from where it was emanating. Manager then opened the window and asked him to see the outside open field that was used by public as urinals during day time and to shit at night! About half a dozen pigs were busy on clearing duty! He then closed the window doors.
BGR asked the Manager why can’t he get the area fenced for which he was told that the fence would disappear within a day! He also told that the whole area where offices, shops and market are located was stinking. Additionally a big cement factory was situated within 2 KMs and the dust from the plant was freely spreading to Shahbad adding fuel to the fire. Moreover, Shahbad slabs were dug in and around the village which again created lot of dust. Whenever it rained, the roads would become extremely slippery and walking on the road would be a misery. Even driving a motor cycle was very difficult.
The Rural Service for the Manager and ‘Vanavasa’ for his Wife!
The Manager had come on transfer to the branch in the previous year and he had to undergo this unbearable suffering called ‘rural service’ for one more year. Coffee/tea served was just not gulpable. For lunch, the Manager asked BGR to go to the next road where a person was serving roti and subji. Nowhere else one could eat as eatables were served on the roadside covered with lot of dirt coupled with bad smell. When BGR and his colleague took the lunch, the subji was too hot and there were no curds. They had to manage with two rotis with a very small quantity of hot subji. In the evening, after returning by train to the Hotel at Gulbarga, BGR used to take a bath immediately to clean the dust on his entire body.
Before the closing of the inspection, the Manager took BGR to his so called “quarters”. For the Shahbad standards it was supposed to be good. But actually it was not a livable house where also dust was the main problem. The wife of the Manager expressed her difficulties in living there. She was telling that she was not able to understand the Kannada language which locals spoke. The family was getting vegetables very rarely. Only Toor Dal was available cheap as it was grown in that area. The water was hard and not drinkable. Life was miserable and she was spending everyday like ‘Vanavasa’.
The inspection was over within four weeks. The Manager co-operated well during inspection to ensure that the “B” gradation was retained which would help him to get out of the stinking village next year. What a pathetic Rural Service some Managers had to undergo!
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The Field Inspection Ends
S M Shenoy, the Senior Manager, who was heading the Section in RI retired during early 1993. He was replaced by Raghavendra Rao who was BGR’s team leader on joining field Inspection at Marathahalli. Raghavendra Rao was promoted to Scale IV in May 1994. In those days it was very rare for a person working in Inspection to get promotion to Scale IV - but Rao fully deserved his promotion. He was posted to one of the branches in Madurai.
One day during fourth week of May 1994, BGR received a call from RI that he had been identified to replace Raghavendra Rao in the Section and he was asked to give his consent. It was a pleasant surprise for BGR. He told the Section that he needed a day’s time to think over. He then analysed from all angles and gave his consent on the next day. Immediately thereafter he received the internal transfer order. At that time he was inspecting Malleswaram-Bangalore branch and had to hand over the report by giving final touches. He was asked to report at RI at the earliest.
The very next day BGR handed over the Inspection Report to the CM of Malleswaram branch and reported at RI. Thus ended his 20 months of field inspection. In almost all the branches he got good co-operation. It was also a good opportunity for him to observe the functioning of different sizes of branches and meet new colleagues and some successful Managers and Officers. By God’s grace, BGR’s left forehead shooting pain never recurred even during his outstation duties.
------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy
25th November 2012