Thursday, November 21, 2013

Oh Kolkata - Episode No.5

Our Canning Street branch in Kolkata had a great history and legacy. It was the first branch of our bank in Eastern India. The branch was opened by Sri L Sanjiva Pai, one of the stalwarts of our bank, who later retired as a General Manager. In fact he was the Deputy General Manager of Kolkata Circle just before I joined the branch. Our bank had built a great reputation, a good number of branches and a major customer base by the time I reported at the branch. At that time L S Pai had been replaced by Mr. R V Pai who had all along worked in Head Office in the Chairman’s Secretariat. Most of the senior employees in Kolkata were personally known to L S Pai. The employees, particularly, Union leaders had a close and cordial relationship with him.
The branch had certain prestigious accounts including that of the Calcutta Port Trust (CPT), West Bengal State Electricity Board, The Bengal Flour Mills and Guest Keen Williams Ltd (a blue chip company at that time). Of these, the account of CPT was the bread and butter of the branch, as it had kept term deposits to the tune of Rs30 crore. Our bank had somehow managed to catch and retain this ‘goldmine’, which was envied by the locally headquartered banks like Allahabad Bank, UCO Bank and United Bank of India and the State Bank of India, which had its registered office in Kolkata. Our bank had posted one manager exclusively at our branch to work as a Relationship Manager to liaison with CPT. The gentleman, called Mr.Roy, was hardly visible in the branch and was supposed to be meeting and communicating with the CPT officials all the time.
I had earlier mentioned about the uncertain future forecast made by Mallya about the branch. I had also mentioned the possibility of posting of a certain new Senior Manager that was not to the liking of the Union leaders. I thought it to be the only problem and was bracing myself to face the eventual situation. But I was totally wrong in my assessment. There were worse things in the offing!
The first thing to jolt me was the information that MR. Roy, the Relationship Manager with CPT, was no more working in our branch. He had been posted as a branch-in-charge at our Alipore branch. I also understood that a decision had also been taken not to post any replacement for him.  Another startling information was given to me by the officer Mr. Subramanian, whom I have referred to in my previous episode. The officer told me that he had been given the exclusive charge of clearing the GKW boxes! Let me elaborate.
Guest Keen Williams Ltd (GKW) was the number one corporate borrower of the branch at that time. The branch was getting substantial foreign exchange and other business from the company. Historically, the branch was also handling the dividend warrants and interest warrants of the company. The number of warrants handled used to be quite huge. The bank had a tacit understanding with the Employees Union that certain minimum overtime allowance would be paid to handle the annual dividend warrants.
The new management at the Circle Office, headed by R V Pai, had taken certain far-reaching decisions. One of them was to stop making overtime payments as a matter of routine. Consequently our branch had been directed not to pay overtime allowance for handling GKW dividend warrants. The warrants had started pouring in by the end of May and the Union had instructed its members not to handle them unless the overtime allowance was paid. The branch tackled the situation in a temporary manner. It started making a single debit entry in the GKW DW account daily by totaling the warrants through an adding machine! The warrants were simply bundled up and dumped in boxes specially indented for the purpose!
Mr. Subramanian who had joined the branch recently had been given the charge of these boxes, with no clear-cut instructions about their disposal. Right then he was only increasing their numbers by making daily additions that were in thousands! All negotiations with the Union to reduce the accumulation had yielded no fruits so far. The company was quite unhappy with the situation. The matter was reaching a boiling point and was expected to explode sooner or later.
The removal of Mr.Roy was another decision taken by R V Pai, the DGM, for whatever reason that was expected to cost the branch heavily. I was told that the CPT management had not taken the decision kindly and was quite unhappy with the matter. It appeared to be quite a bit of coincidence apparently. But the fact remained that the previous branch management, led by Capt. Raman and Mr.Shome had escaped the situation narrowly. The new management led by P Ramamoorthy had the unenviable task of bearing the brunt of the after-effects of the two major decisions. As the Manager of deposits section, I was expected to be a major victim of the decision on CPT.
After a week of my joining, Mr.Shome was relieved from the branch and Mr. Mallya took the temporary charge as Senior Manager of the branch. Even though Mallya himself was eligible to be given the permanent charge, he was said to be not in the good books of the management. This was revealed to me by Ramamurthy. Ramamurthy was a highly qualified dignified personality who never believed in tough measures to tackle the employee-related matters. He was basically a ‘softie’ and aggressiveness was not his forte. He was a friendly person and always maintained excellent relationship with colleagues at all levels.
By now I had taken a decision to not to go in search of quarters anymore and just wait for allotment of the existing quarters by our Premises department. One fine morning, after about three weeks of stay in Komala Vilas, I received a call from the said office informing me that I had been allotted quarters at Hindustan Park in South Kolkata. I was also told that I was quite lucky in getting the quarters in that location, as it had no load-shedding problems. The reason was simple. It was located at a walkable distance from the ancestral residence of Jyoti Basu, the then Chief Minister of West Bengal!
------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy

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