My next assignment was at Sindhi Society, Chembur branch. I had to travel up to Kurla by bus, catch a harbour-line train to Chembur station and again catch a bus to Sindhi Society. But the whole journey used to take only about half an hour in the morning, thanks to the frequency and regularity of train and bus services. This area was predominantly occupied by people who had migrated from the Sindh and
Punjab after the partition. There was a gentleman called Hashu Advani, who was doing lot of social service and was a great leader of the people of this area at that time. Advani was a valued customer of the branch. He did tremendous work in the field of education and rose to become the Finance Minister of Maharashtra later.
The branch was headed by an elderly Senior Manager by name Mohan Rao. He had worked earlier in staff department and was closely related to a highly popular Deputy General Manager, who later rose to the position of the CMD of our bank. I had been advised to be careful in making observations of any type by my seniors. However, I found Mohan Rao to be an extremely nice gentleman and a very cool person in handling the affairs of the branch. He treated us extremely well and gave respect to our audit observations. He was handling the major advance accounts personally and was brilliant in his correspondence with the higher ups.
The famous Rajkapoor’s studio was situated in Chembur. One of the branch customers was closely connected to Raj-family and through him Mohan Rao arranged for a special visit to the studio. We could see the vast studio leisurely. The studio had preserved many of the costumes of the famous films of Raj including Mera Naam Joker, sangam and Bobby.
I was planning for a visit to my in-law’s place in Puttur to see my new born son. In the meanwhile my Manager Kamath gave me a pleasant news. The
inspection teams had covered their entire programme up-to-date at that time. The management decided to depute us to other circles to complete the backlog there. While some of the teams were given north-Indian assignments, our team was assigned five branches in Mangalore and nearby places. It was a blessing in disguise for me. Kamath agreed to send me to Mangalore immediately to enable me to be with my family in the weekends. Bombay
I was in a hurry to wind up my assignment on hand at the Sindhi Society branch. I had taken up verification of pledge loans at that time. As per the norms, we have to visit the party’s godowns to verify the stock kept under the bank’s lock and key. There was a client called Inland Packaging Corporation, enjoying this facility. This party was supplying packaging materials to companies like Godrej and Camlin. The raw material used was in the form of huge imported Kraft paper rolls. The party was supposed to have about 200 rolls in the godown at the time of my verification. Mohan Rao himself took me to the godown in his car. The stock was stored in the first floor of the building. Both Mohan Rao and I went up the stairs accompanied by one of the partners. The huge rolls were placed one over another from the entrance of the godown almost up to the roof. The partner told us that totally 200 rolls had been placed in the same fashion up to the other end of the godown. I wanted to count them physically; but the party discouraged me telling that it was not practicable. Then I told him that I would go up the front row and confirm that the rolls had been placed up to the backend. The party was not prepared for the same and was again discouraging me. Finding me unsatisfied, Mohan Rao told me to go up and get convinced.
I started mounting the rolls and slowly moved up. The party was shouting at me telling that it was dangerous. By that time I had already reached the top of the first row. I could now see the entire godown up to the wall at the far end. Once I saw the position there I was about to collapse! My throat simply dried up. I looked at the party below. His face had turned pale and white! I was shaky and found it difficult to hold myself stable. Mohan Rao asked me how many rolls I was finding there. But I was finding the godown totally empty behind the first two rows! When I told him so, he asked me to come down immediately.
Back at the branch it was clear to both of us that there were only 20 rolls against 200 rolls the party was supposed to have pledged to the bank. The party had cheated the bank by convincing that he had stored 200 rolls up to the other end of the godown. It was not clear whether initially itself he had pledged only 20 rolls or he had removed them subsequently, when he had taken part-deliveries. One of the clerks in the branch had signed the records for having verified the stock at the time of pledge and subsequent deliveries.
As per the norms, the shortages in godown were to be informed to our department by way of a special report. The matter was very serious and involved the fixing the accountability of the concerned bank official. I was in a dilemma. I was hesitant to give a special report in view of the fact that the Manager was well-connected. I was also in a hurry to wind up my assignment as I wanted to leave for Mangalore early.
Mohan Rao understood my predicament. As a Manager who had worked in the staff department earlier, he knew all about the special reports and the consequences. He simply asked me to submit my special report without any hesitation. I drafted my report carefully, took his acknowledgement and submitted it to the department. Mohan Rao immediately drafted a detailed reply from his side, in his impeccable English, to the Circle and Divisional offices and sent them along with a copy of my report. He had not disclosed the name of the concerned clerk in his report. Instead he had mentioned that he himself had inspected the stock at the time of original pledge and subsequently at the time of part-deliveries! It was quite unusual. As per the well-established bank tradition, it is customary to pass on the buck to some scapegoat! I myself had to face a very bad such instance later in my career. But Mohan Rao belonged to a different generation! I would only say I met very few such people in my career!
------- (To be continued) -----
A V Krishnamurthy
28th July 2009