Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Oh Kolkata! -Episode No.20

"Travelers, we are fabric of the road we go;
We settle, but like feathers on times flow".
                                                            -Cecil Day Lewis

So that was it. It was time for me to move again. This time it was to our own Bangalore. ‘My days’ in Kolkata during the last two years (1985-1987) really moved very fast. The comfortable working atmosphere created by the Nayak-Guinn team at the branch enabled me to devote some time for our social life. We could visit all the important locations in Kolkata including Belur Math, Dakshineswar Kali Temple, Victoria Memorial, Alipore Zoo and others. The Kolkata Metro was launched during our stay in Kolkata. We had the opportunity to travel on the Metro immediately after the launch. We also went on a visit to Darjeeling, Puri and Bhubaneswar in Orissa.

Nayak was also responsible for the frequent meeting of our families at different places (our residences) by rotation. There were a number of Kannadigas living in our south Kolkata and we could come into contact with them through the Mysore Association. Most of the families belonged to bank officers who would stay in Kolkata only for two-three years. The early Kannadigas in the city were responsible for establishing and running the association successfully. We could develop a circle of close friends.

The association had a chance to arrange for a meeting of the members with the well known Kannada novelist Prof. S L Bhyrappa. He had come on a private visit to the city along with his wife Mrs. Saraswathi. All of us were impressed by the simplicity of the famous couple. A strange thing happened during the meeting. The person, who officially welcomed the couple, started highlighting the support extended by Bhyrappa’s wife in his literary accomplishments. It appeared to be a clue to all the persons who spoke later. All of them spoke only about the role of a wife in her husband’s accomplishments in general and about the role of Bhyrappa’s wife in particular. In the process, Bhyrappa’s achievements were relegated to the background with his wife’s role highlighted to the skies! It actually turned out to be a Saraswathi Abhinandana programme! As Bhyrappa kept his face expressionless, we could not make out how he felt about the proceedings!

The CMD of our bank Shri Ratnakar visited Kolkata in the year 1985. He visited our branch also. We could make out that Nayak had a close rapport with the CMD.  On the occasion the CMD was kind enough to consider a special request of the officers working in Kolkata. He permitted the supply of UPS to all the quarters of the bank officers considering the load-shedding situation in Kolkata.

As per the rules of our bank, the Managers were eligible for transfer back to their home-state after serving for three years in the North including West Bengal. We were quite comfortably well settled in Kolkata after the turbulent first year. The standard of teaching in the Kolkata-schools was also very high. As such, I was in a dilemma regarding asking for a transfer to Karnataka. However, I was asked by the bank to inform them officially about my decision. Eventually, I asked for a transfer to Bangalore.

However, I was informed by the bank that it would not be possible to accommodate me in Bangalore. By some strange coincidence, Mr. P A Pai, the DGM, was also transferred to the Bangalore Circle Office at the same time. One day Nayak took me to the DGM. He started highlighting my performance and efficiency. DGM heard him in full and asked him to tell him what exactly he wanted from him. Nayak requested him to ensure that I got a deserving posting in Bangalore. DGM asked me to have patience and to wait till he took charge at the Bangalore Circle Office.

Immediately after Mr. Pai took charge in Bangalore, Nayak got a phone asking him whether I was interested in taking charge at the Corporate Cell, attached to our Cantonment branch. Nayak was also told that there were a number of irregular corporate accounts and things were in a total mess needing special attention. Nayak told me that it was a challenging assignment for me and he expected me to accept. He was sure that I would be able to bring the things to order. Accordingly I gave my consent. Within a week, I received the official orders of my transfer.

I had identified Shankar Babu as a capable officer to handle Credit department. His performance was excellent at the Canning Street branch. However he got a transfer to a small branch in Bangalore having negligible advances portfolio. Nayak took an assurance from me to get a proper posting to him after my reporting at Bangalore. Accordingly, I managed to get him transferred to Cantonment branch by requesting the DGM personally. Babu worked with me for three years in the branch. The bank recognised his expertise in handling credit. Except for a compulsory rural posting for two years, he has been continuously posted in corporate credit department in Head Office and Circle Offices. Currently he is a Divisional Manager at the Corporate Credit Section in Head Office, Bangalore.

My days in Bangalore, as Manager of corporate credit Cell, turned out to be really very challenging. I definitely felt the absence of mentors like Nayak & Guinn. But that is another story. Perhaps I may not be able to write it in first person.

After my leaving Kolkata, Nayak was posted as Divisional Manager of DO, Kolkata. Subsequently he was promoted as AGM and posted to Regional Office, Delhi. He got an award as the Best AGM in the bank while working there. He retired as the DGM of Circle Office in Mumbai. As far as I know, a one-room flat at Borivli in Mumbai was all that Nayak could build as tangible asset in his over 40 years of service in Canara Bank. But the quantum of intangible asset he built as goodwill in the hearts of people who were fortunate to work with him was simply awesome. It could be the envy of a giant multinational!

As I conclude this memoir recollecting my association with Nayak, I am reminded of a currently famous jingle of a telecom company:

“Little things you do for me and nobody else makes me feel good!
That’s why………
A V Krishnamurthy

Monday, December 30, 2013

ನಮ್ಮ ಕಬೀರ

ಓ ಪುಟ್ಟ ಪೋರ
ನಮ್ಮ ಈ ಕಬೀರ

ಅಹುದು ಇವನು ಶೂರ
ಇವನ ಚೇಷ್ಟೆ ಅಪಾರ!

ಓಡುತಿಹನು ಸರಸರ
ಕೈಗೆ ಸಿಗದೆ ದೂರ!

ಎಷ್ಟು ಇವನ ಸಡಗರ?
ಇವನಿಗಿಲ್ಲ ಮುಜುಗರ!

ಇವನ ಬುದ್ದ್ಹಿ  ಚಂಚಲ
ನೋಡಿ ಇವನ ಚಪಲ!

ಇವನದೆಂತ ಊಟ
ಮಾಡಿಸುವರ ಪೇಚಾಟ!

ಒಮ್ಮೆ ಬಾಯಿ ತೆರೆವ
ಒಮ್ಮೆ ಮುಚ್ಚಿ ಬಿಡುವ!

ಇವನು ಬಹಳ ತುಂಟ
ಆಗಿಹನು ರಾಮ ಬಂಟ!

ಇವನ ಪಯಣ  ದೂರ
ದಾಟಿ ಬಂದ ಸಾಗರ!
ಇವನ ಅಪ್ಪ ಅಮ್ಮ
ಅದುವೆ ಇವನ ಪ್ರಪಂಚ
ಬೇರೆಯವರಿಗಲ್ಲಿ ಜಾಗ  
ಕೊಂಚ ಕೊಂಚ ಕೊಂಚ!
  ----ಎ ವಿ ಕೃಷ್ಣಮೂರ್ತಿ
       ೨೯ ಅಕ್ಟೋಬರ್ ೨೦೧೩

Friday, December 27, 2013

Oh Kolkata! - Episode No.19

Nayak had been placed in a very unenviable position at that point of time. He was in a highly agitated state of mind. He had to somehow wriggle out of the situation unscathed. At that stage he thought it fit to meet the DGM to brief him about the two proposals in the pipeline. On coming to know about the proposals, the DGM was also highly perturbed. He advised Nayak to call for the official confidential opinion about the two companies from the existing banker. The idea was to decline the two proposals in the initial stage itself if the opinion was found to be adverse. He asked Nayak to act fast so that the proposals were officially rejected by the Circle Office (at the DGM level) before the GM got back to him again.

There was a possibility of the other bank not furnishing the details of all the irregularities in the two accounts, in which case it would have been difficult for our bank to reject the proposals. During his personal discussion, Nayak could make out that the bank was looking at the takeover proposal from our bank as a case of ‘good riddance’. Naturally it was in the interest of the said bank to hide the irregularities with them. On the other hand, it was equally important for us to see that the bank listed out all the adverse features.

Nayak paid a visit to the units and offices of the two companies. The Group was interested in shifting the accounts to our bank as they had been ‘assured’ that they would be permitted higher limits despite the adverse financial position and irregular dealings with their existing bankers. They admitted that there were irregularities with their current bankers.

Nayak met the bank officials again and sought the official opinion about the two accounts from them. He cleverly told them that our bank had decided to take over the two accounts despite the known irregularities in the accounts. He also told them that the Group had admitted the existence of irregularities in their accounts and they could list out all of them as our bank would take over the accounts in any case. That did the trick for us. The bank furnished the official confidential opinion to us on the two accounts listing out the irregularities in full.

Nayak acted immediately without any further loss of time. He made out a detailed proposal to the circle office listing out all the adverse features in the accounts and the financials. He personally handed over the papers to the DGM. The very next day, we received a strongly worded letter from the Circle Office rejecting the two proposals under the signature of the DGM. The DGM had also instructed the branch not to entertain such proposals in future!

The GM rang up Nayak after some time. Nayak told him that he had submitted the proposals to the Circle Office and the same had been rejected by the DGM. The GM then spoke to the DGM. He was told by the DGM in no uncertain terms that he would put his foot down firmly on any such proposals in future also! The DGM had perhaps saved the heads of many of the Managers in the Circle by standing firm in his attitude as long as he remained at the Kolkata Circle Office.
o------o-----o-----o--- -----o------o-------o-----o------o------o-------o------o------o--
I should mention here that the two years I spent with my Senior Manager Arup Guinn in Kolkata will remain permanently etched in my memory. I had a perfect understanding with him both at the official and personal level. Except on a few days when he/I took leave, we travelled together in his car on our way to and back from the office. There was only one occasion when there was a communication gap between us and I went to the office directly in a mini-bus. He was totally upset on that day. But he handled me just like any elder brother would do with his younger brother! I realised it was actually my fault. I really did not know where to hide my face!

Guinn lived in his own flat near the Vivekananda Park, which was very close to my residence. The Guinn-couple had only one son called Arnab. He was studying in a prestigious school in Kolkata. Guinn had lost his mother. His father, a retired official, was living with him. Guinn’s only brother (younger) was a hotelier in Singapore. He had left India at a young age, empty-handed; but had set up the hotel in Singapore through his sheer hard work and entrepreneurship.

The Guinn-couple was made for each other. Mrs. Guinn was a typical Bengali beauty and was the perfect match for him. Guinn used to tell me about his family affairs during our daily travel together. Often he would tell me how a man’s life would reach a dead-end in the absence of his beloved wife - the life-partner. He was telling this from his own experience with his beloved aged father. The gentleman had witnessed a vacuum in the evening of his life on the death of his beloved wife. Any amount of affection shown by his son, daughter-in-law and the grandson, could not fill up the void created by the death of his partner. He had almost become a recluse.

Often the senior Guinn would complain about some illness. It appears he was testing his son and daughter-in-law whether they really cared for him. He would make it look quite serious. Guinn would be forced to admit him to a nursing home. The doctors were unable to diagnose any sort of sickness in him. He would be discharged after a few days. This became a routine for Guinn after some time. He realised that his father would not be satisfied unless he was admitted to a hospital. He made a regular arrangement with the nursing home. The doctors agreed to create an illusion of ‘serious’ treatment to the ‘healthy’ patient! I had met the senior Guinn on a few occasions at the hospital while undergoing such illusory treatment!

Guinn was a very straightforward man who would not take any nonsense. He would be very blunt while dealing with such characters and situations. Our Circle office had a separate section to deal with the accounts of sick units. It was headed by a Manager called Shambulingam (name changed). We had the account of a sick unit called Paharimata Iron Works Ltd. Shambulingam used to personally handle the file and he was in the habit of addressing a number of letters to our branch on the conduct of this account daily.

I was also handling this account personally at our branch. I was replying to each letter of Shambulingam separately. I used to find many of the queries raised by him repetitive in nature. After some time I got really fed up with the ‘Shambulingam-correspondence’. One day I spoke to Guinn about this matter. He told me he knew exactly the reasons for my problem with Shambulingam. He explained that while the account of Paharimata was only one of the over 200 files handled by me, for Shambulingam it was one of the four or five files of sick units he was handling at the Circle Office! He had to sit idle most of the time. To prove that he had a lot of work on hand, Shambulingam was writing multiple letters to the branches even though the issues dealt with were repetitive in nature!

Guinn told me he knew exactly how to stop such repetitive correspondence. He asked me to keep the replies pending for a week and then handover all the letters to him. Accordingly I handed over a bunch of ‘Shambulingam-letters’ to him after a week. Guinn immediately called the steno and dictated a single letter in reply to the entire bunch of letters of Shambulingam, in consultation with me. He listed out all the letters of Shambulingam in the chronological order and in respect of different letters of the same day he mentioned the time of writing (by presumption) as 10 am, 11 am, 12 am, 1 pm, 2 pm, 3 pm and 4 pm. He concluded the letter by requesting Shambulingam to write a single letter in future at the end of every week covering all the queries on the account. That was the end of the multiple ‘Shambulingam-correspondence’! A few days later, both Guinn and I attended a meeting at the Circle Office. On seeing Guinn, Shambulingam was trying to hide and slip away! But Guinn managed to catch him and asked him whether he was happy with our replies!

I got an opportunity to visit Mumbai in my official capacity. The West Bengal State Electricity Board (WESB) was a major corporate client of our branch. They had received a cheque for a huge amount from the Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) drawn on our Tamarind Lane branch in Mumbai. They requested our bank to depute an officer at their cost to Mumbai to collect the proceeds, as otherwise it would take more than a week to realise the amount. It was an opportunity for me to meet my friends and colleagues in Mumbai.

After returning from Mumbai, I submitted my TA bill to the bank covering my expenses including the airfare. The bill was kept pending at our Circle Office. Whenever I sent a reminder, I would receive a query asking whether WSEB had reimbursed the amount to the bank. WSEB was taking some time to send the payment. We felt it was not proper to remind them as they were a prestigious corporate client. I brought this to the notice of Guinn. He immediately wrote out a letter to the Circle Office on the following lines:

The TA bill of our Manager has been held up at your end for the reason that WSEB has not reimbursed the amount. We are unable to appreciate your stand as our Manager had proceeded to Mumbai as per the instructions of our bank and not at the behest of WSEB. The understanding with WSEB that the cost will be borne by them is with the bank and is not with the Manager individually. In our opinion, Bank cannot refuse the sanction to the Manager if WESB ultimately fails to make the payment. We request you to sanction the bill without any further delay. Meanwhile, we assure you that we would pursue the matter with WSEB and will inform you once the payment is received”.

That settled the matter finally. We received the sanction of the bill within three days of Guinn’s above letter! WSEB remitted the amount to us a week later.
------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy
(Note: The story concludes in the next Episode)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

I Don't Know, Son! - 72

The Cloud Sale!
Son: The Bombay High Court has refused bail to a builder for selling a flat on the fifth floor in an under construction building to a woman, dad.
Father: What was the crime there? Go on, son.
Son: The builders Altaf Furniturewala and Aftab Latif signed an agreement to sell a 600-square feet flat to Rubina Ansari for Rs78 lakh and collected Rs50 lakh, dad.
Father: Go on, son.
Son: Everything was right except that the builders had permission to build only three floors and there was no plan to build even the fourth floor, dad!
Father: I don’t know, son!
Adulteration of a Different Kind!
Son: We have heard of adulteration in food products, milk, drugs and other consumables, dad.
Father: True. Go on, son.
Son: But the PSU - NTPC Ltd - appears to be the victim of a different kind of adulteration, dad.
Father: Like what? Go on, son.
Son: The culprit in this case is another prestigious PSU – Coal India Ltd (CIL) - dad!
Father: Interesting. Go on, son.
Son: According to officials at the Farakka Thermal Power Station of NTPC in West Bengal, CIL has been liberally mixing stones and boulders to the coal supplied to the plant, dad.
Father: Go on, son.
Son: The officials say that the company is forced to pay for the stones that come mixed with coal, dad.
Father: Go on, son.
Son: The power station has been building huge mounds out of these stones and boulders with each mound containing 100 tons of stones, dad!
Father: Go on, son.
Son: They are afraid they would soon run out of space to store these stones, dad!
Father: I don’t know, son!
The Zero Puzzle!
Son: The reason for the sudden exit of Jayanthi Natarajan from the Ministry of Environment and Forests has turned out to be a mystery, dad.
Father: Like what? Go on, son.
Son: The issue apparently appears to be her reluctance to clear various projects as Environment Minister, dad.
Father: Go on, son.
Son: But the Minister has said that she had cleared all the projects and the number of projects pending on her table was “Zero”, dad!
Father: Go on, son.
Son: But the critics say that she had held up projects worth Rs10 lakh crore and it was actually her “Zero” performance that led to her unceremonious exit from the Ministry, dad!
Father: I don’t know, son!
Sibal wants to forget Zero!
Son: There is another senior Cabinet Minister who is trying to forget the “Number Zero”, dad.
Father: Who is he? Go on, son.
Son: It is the Minister for Communications and IT - Kapil Sibal, dad.
Father: Go on, son.
Son: CAG had estimated the loss to the Government in the 2G spectrum scam at Rs1.76 lakh crore, dad.
Father: True. Go on, son.
Son: Sibal had then strangely arrived at the loss at ‘Zero” and had to face lot of music for his comments, dad.
Father: True. Go on, son.
Son:  With Lok Sabha elections approaching fast and the Aam Aadmi Party ruling Delhi, Sibal hopes his chances of winning the Chandni Chowk seat would not get reduced to “Zero”, dad!
Father: I don’t know, son!
Vijay Mallya and His Commitment!
Son: One should appreciate the commitment of Vijay Mallya, the King of Good Times, dad.
Father: Go on, son.
Son: Mallya had failed in his commitment to pay back the loans taken by the Kingfisher Airlines from the consortium of banks, dad.
Father: True.  Go on, son.
Son: He had failed to pay the installments for the aircrafts taken on lease, dad.
Father: True. Go on, son.
Son: Mallya had failed to pay the airport dues, dues to petroleum companies for the fuel and the service tax to the Government of India, dad.
Father: True. Go on, son.
Son: He had even forgotten to pay the salaries to the airline staff, dad!
Father: True. Go on, son.
Son: But Mallya has now met his commitment for a mission close to his heart, dad.
Father: Like what? Go on, son.
Son: He has launched the Kingfisher Calendar 2014 with prestigious models captured by ace photographer Atul Kasbekar, dad!
Father: I don’t know, son!
A V Krishnamurthy
25th December 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Oh Kolkata! - Episode No.18

The DGM N M Kamath was transferred after sometime and Mr.Annappa Pai (P A Pai), AGM, was elevated to the post. Nayak was close to both the AGM K S Rao and the DGM P A Pai. His close rapport with the top two in the Circle Office helped the branch immensely. The handling of advances also became a smooth affair over a period of time. Nayak was extremely proud of us and he used to challenge the Officers and the Managers at the circle office to find fault with our branch in handling the credit portfolio. He would visit the Circle Office often and get the sanctions for our branch-proposals expeditiously.

With the new management team in place, the employee-related problems at the branch became a thing of the past. Nayak had a reputation for carrying the entire team with him wherever he was posted. He would never let down the people working under him. He would rather go out of his way to protect them and help them in case of necessity. I was one of the beneficiaries of his goodness.

In my first year (1984) of working at the branch I was not in a position to visit the famous Durga pooja pendals in Kolkata during the Pooja time. I was totally tied up with the problems in the branch. However, our family could visit all the major pendals in Kolkata during 1985. Nayak had ordered his driver to take us to all the pendals during the night! It was a great pleasure to see different types of pooja idols in the beautifully decorated and illuminated pendals. The Bengalis are known for the celebration of the Pooja festival with all its gaiety. People from all walks of life enjoy the festival by purchasing new cloth, preparing sweets and worshipping the Durga. The festival lasts almost for a week and at the end of the holidays, people report back at the offices with great reluctance!

Nayak’s kind gesture of sending his car to enable me and my family to visit the pooja pendals was only one among such gestures. There was another gesture by him, which I will not be able to forget in my lifetime.

I have mentioned earlier that my Senior Manager Guinn was kind enough to pick me up daily while going to the office. One particular day Guinn informed Nayak that he was going on a week’s leave. I was present in the cabin of Nayak when Guinn told him about his leave. Immediately on hearing his request, Nayak called his driver to his cabin. He ordered him to see that I was picked up and dropped everyday till Guinn reported back! Nayak’s gesture did not end here. On another such occasion, Nayak himself had to take leave simultaneously. Believe it or not! Nayak then made an arrangement for me with his friend Mr. Kamath, DM of our Brabourne Road branch!

Nayak’s comfort with the top executives at the Circle Office received a setback after some time.  There was a sudden new development much to the dislike of the entire set up in Kolkata. The DGMs in Kolkata had till then enjoyed an independent status. The fact that Kolkata was far away from the Head Office (HO) in Bangalore was indeed a privilege. While the customers could not approach the HO to bring pressure on the DGM to take decisions in their favour, the top executives including the CMD were not interfering in the day-to-day affairs of the Circle. However, all this changed with the opening of a General Manager’s Office in Kolkata.

The first GM to be posted was called Bhoja (name changed), who had earlier worked in Mumbai branches and New Delhi. He started showing his true colours almost immediately on his arrival at Kolkata. Our branch had the account of a major export-oriented company owned by a Marwari family. In view of the huge valuable foreign exchange business turnover passed on by the company, it was always dictating terms to the bank. In other words, it was a sensitive account for the branch to be handled with utmost caution and care.

A week after the arrival of the new GM in Kolkata, one of the representatives of the company told us that the company had been asked by the GM to place a car at his exclusive disposal! We were unable to understand the requirement, as the GM was provided with an exclusive official car by the bank. However, the company was indeed pleased to oblige. The representative told us that the GM required the car for the private use of his family, which was very much understandable! He did not hide the fact that the company’s clout with the bank had gone up considerably on account of this special arrangement with the GM!

There was more to come. After some more time, Nayak was called one day to the office of the GM. There he was handed over two proposals from a particular Group in Kolkata for taking over their existing limits with another public sector bank. Nayak could not understand the reasons for the Group to approach the GM directly. In the normal course, the proposal should have originated from the branch. The GM simply asked him to recommend the proposals to the Circle Office. Nayak collected the proposals and came back to the branch.

A close scrutiny of the two proposals and the relative financial papers, revealed a very unhealthy status of the two companies. Nayak immediately went and personally met the officials (of the other bank) who had the privilege to handle the accounts till then! The officials could not hide their eagerness to hand over the two ‘unhealthy babies’ to our bank with all their belongings! They had absolutely no objections to our adoption of the two sick babies!

It was indeed a test of sorts for Nayak. He could not disobey the orders of the GM who was in-charge of the Circle. But if he were to recommend the two proposals, he was sure to face an investigation sooner or later. He knew that the sanction from the Circle was only a formality, as the GM had already agreed-in-principle and the proposal had originated from him only, even though unofficially!
------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy
29th November 2010

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Oh Kolkata! - Episode No.17

My initial days in Canning Street were marked by employee-related problems and I could hardly concentrate on my regular banking job. However, somehow I managed to keep things under control in my Deposit Section. My movement to credit department coincided with the arrival of the new team of Nayak and Guinn. I was given a real free-hand to deal with the things in my department by this team.  Within a short time I was in the thick of action and started deriving satisfaction out of my job.

Nayak was closely monitoring my performance and I could gain his confidence early. One day he told me in the presence of Guinn that he was delegating his entire sanctioning and discretionary powers to me.  I was free to use his full powers for the deserving parties. I could exercise them without any prior concurrence from him in all the cases. It was left to me to discuss the matters with him only if I felt it necessary. He wanted me to take independent decisions and this was his way of encouraging me by expressing his full confidence in me. I should say that I was truly blessed to work under the leadership of a person like Nayak in my first assignment as a Credit-Manager.

Nayak had one problem to face in his early days in our branch. Three of his predecessors had been posted in Kolkata only. While Ramamurthy was in L C Road Branch, his immediate predecessor was in the Circle Office and the other person was heading the Divisional Office. Many of the branch customers, particularly borrowers, were keeping in touch with them.  Immediately after giving a proposal they would visit them and request them to ensure that the proposals were sanctioned. While Ramamurthy never interfered in our branch affairs, the person in the Circle office used to ring up the branch to influence our decisions. It became a sort of nuisance for us. Nayak was a person who did not like any interference in his decision-making process. He used to tell jocularly that Canning Street branch appeared to be having more than one Divisional Manager (DM)! But he put a full stop to the practice by telling the man at the Circle Office bluntly to keep away. He also made it clear to the customers concerned that he would entertain no such interference in future. 

Nayak had another legacy to handle. Again the man at the Circle Office was the reason behind it. During his regime, the sanctioning powers of the DMs at the branches had been substantially enhanced by the Head Office. He took full advantage of the same. There were many borrowal accounts of jute traders in the branch with secured bill discounting facilities. The limits enjoyed by them varied between Rs2 lakh to Rs10 lakh. The HO had enhanced the sanctioning powers of DMs for such bills limits from Rs 3 lakh to Rs10 lakh. Immediately on receipt of the new circular from HO, the DM had uniformly and unilaterally enhanced the limits of all such parties to Rs10 lakh by obtaining proposals from them!

But the DM had conveniently ignored a rider attached to the enhanced powers by the HO. It was clearly mentioned there that the enhancement was subject to the prevailing credit restraints. In view of the tight money conditions prevailing at that time, the branch DMs were to seek prior clearance from the circle office for any enhancement in the existing limits of the parties. When the Circle Office came to know about the en masse enhancement of the limits of the parties, the action of the DM was firmly disapproved. The branch was asked to revert to the earlier limits. It was a great embarrassment for the branch. As the parties had utilized the limits in full, it was virtually impossible to reduce the limits. But the Circle Office went on following up the matter from the AGM level. Ironically the DM was transferred to the Circle Office at this stage and he escaped the embarrassment of facing the parties at the branch!

The issue was kept open during the short regime of Ramamurthy also. It fell on the shoulders of Nayak to resolve the issue. As Credit-Manager it was for me to arrive at a solution. We made a list of all such parties and studied the genuine needs of the parties and their eligibility for such enhancements. Wherever we found the needs genuine, we discussed the matter with the AGM and obtained his concurrence for enhancement on a case-to-case basis. For the rest of the parties we reduced the limits gradually to the need-based level under due persuasion.

There were several consortium advances in our branch. While our bank was not leader in any of these consortiums, the leaders were mostly UCO Bank and United Bank of India, both being Kolkata-based. While our bank was meticulous in adhering to the working capital assessment norms and post-sanction follow up, the Kolkata based banks lacked such expertise in general. They would simply go by the assessment made by the corporates themselves without making a proper appraisal of their own. I had the opportunity to attend several consortium meetings accompanied by a representative of our Circle Office in the cadre of a Senior Manager. Generally the leader bank would try to ignore our observations during such meetings.

The posting of K S Rao (KSR) as AGM to our circle office changed the situation completely. He had made it a point to attend all such meetings along with the Manager of the section. KSR was very thorough with the nuances involved in the working capital assessment of corporates. He would raise several queries on the performance of the company and the assessment made by the lead bank. The representatives of the company and the lead bank were finding themselves in an embarrassing situation. They were neither capable of answering the queries nor they could ignore the points raised by him! There were instances where the company representatives had to flatly admit that there were no genuine reasons for the enhancement in limits sought by them even though the lead bank had already agreed in-principle! KSR became a nightmare for such corporates and the lead bankers in Kolkata. He was like bull in a China shop as far as the consortium meetings were concerned. Nayak had a very close rapport with KSR and that helped us immensely in solving several problems in our branch.

Nayak was a very light-hearted jovial gentleman. He was very particular in extending courtesies to the persons calling on him. He also expected similar treatment when he went on official visit to the clients’ places. We had a sick unit under our nursing programme called Paharimata Iron works Pvt Ltd. A senior gentleman called Nopani had taken over the unit and was trying to revive it. Nopani was a super rich thorough gentleman and was related to the prestigious Birla family. Nayak visited the unit once and Mr.Nopani was personally present at the unit at that time.

On returning from the unit Nayak told us that he found the working of the unit satisfactory. However, as regards the treatment meted out to him at the unit, he told us that Nopani literally stood by his name! On our request to elaborate, he told us that he was offered “no paani” (not even water) during the visit!
------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy

Friday, December 20, 2013

Oh Kolkata! - Episode No.16

While I could make plenty of value additions to my banking experiences under a stalwart like B R Nayak, I would like to mention only two specific instances that would give a fairly good idea about the way he handled the credit matter. I may be excused by my readers who are not so much interested in the intricacies involved in bank financing.

Palsons Drugs Pvt Ltd was a small-scale industrial (SSI) unit promoted by a Bengali gentleman affectionately called as Paul Babu. He was the Managing Partner of Annapurna Group of firms which enjoyed working capital limits at our branch. The group firms were distributors for several reputed fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) and pharmaceutical companies including Hindustan Lever, Amul, Rasna and others. Paul Babu had started the business with the assistance from our branch and his business had grown almost in tune with our branch business. Naturally he had a sentimental attachment to our branch and the bank.

Not satisfied with his profession as a distributor, Pal Babu set up the above new SSI unit with an ambition to become an industrialist. The unit was to manufacture pharmaceuticals and had already tied up with major drug companies for lifting its products. Our bank had sanctioned term loan and working capital facilities for the unit and the project was under final stages of implementation when I took charge. We made the final disbursement of term loan before the unit started trial production. The working capital limit was also made available by way of cash credit account shortly thereafter.

After some time later, the first monthly installment under the term loan fell due. I started following up the matter with Paul Babu. However, he could not arrange the payment and two more installments also fell due. We received a reminder from the advances section in the Circle Office. I discussed the matter with Paul Babu again and made the recovery of the installments from his cash credit account. I sent a reply to the letter from Circle office stating that we had recovered the entire dues.

Nayak had a system of going through the copies all the letters originating from our branch in the serial file maintained for the purpose. When he saw the copy of my letter, he called me to his cabin immediately. I thought he was appreciating my efforts in successfully recovering the dues. But he asked me whether I was right in making the recovery! I could not really make out what exactly he was trying to tell me. He then asked me whether there was any delay in the completion of the project. I told him that there was a delay of over six months.

Nayak then explained to me that the company was still not making cash profits and there was no justification for the bank to recover the installments at this stage. My telling him that Paul Babu had consented for the recovery did not cut ice with him. He was sure that Paul Babu must have diverted money from some other group firm to meet the dues, on my insistence. He advised me to get the installments rescheduled by obtaining a suitable proposal from Paul Babu. As per him, the bank had the moral obligation to be pragmatic and practical in such matters and the fact that the client was ignorant of his rights did not justify our action. I could appreciate his stand and accordingly I made a proposal to reschedule the installments and obtained the necessary sanction. That was my first lesson in the matter of monitoring the project implementation and recovery of term loans.

The second instance pertained to two sister firms owned by a rich Marwari family called Kanorias. The Kanoria family owned the oldest (wheat) flour mill in Kolkata – The Bengal Flour Mills, which enjoyed credit facilities with us. The dealings of this mill were highly satisfactory. The family had a partition and the old mill fell into the hands of one Ramanath Kanoria. One of the other Kanorias then purchased two sick flour mills standing in the name of Krishnanagar Flour Mills and Sree Radhakrishna Trading Corporation.

The owner of these two new mills then entrusted the management to his two young sons – Hemant and Sunil. While Hemant was a qualified young entrepreneur in his early twenties, Sunil had not yet completed his education. Both the firms enjoyed cash credit and inland letter of credit facilities from our branch. The mills were getting their supply of wheat from the Food Corporation of India (FCI). FCI would supply the wheat on credit on the security of letter of credit opened by our bank. The firms would take delivery of wheat from the FCI godowns against tendering of cheques drawn on our branch.

We used to receive a number of cheques drawn by these two firms in clearing daily. Most of the time there used to be a mismatch between the amount of cheques received and the amounts tendered by the firms for credit of their accounts. We were forced to allow overdrawings in the accounts on many occasions. Our Circle Office at Kolkata was not at all happy with the conduct of the two accounts. The firms had also failed to clear the temporary limits sanctioned earlier to meet some urgent requirements.

Hemant Kanoria was an extremely nice and thorough gentleman with impeccable manners. After I took charge I was surprised to see him at my house one morning with sweet boxes. While he tried to put it as a courtesy call, I could make out that he was requesting me not to dishonor his firms’ cheques.

On a particular day we received a strongly worded letter from Circle Office asking the branch not to allow any overdrawings in the two accounts under any circumstances. Unfortunately both Nayak and Guinn were not available at the branch at that time. Meanwhile, a number of cheques issued by the firms were presented in clearing. The firms failed to remit sufficient funds on the day to cover the payment. I was forced to dishonor the cheques as I did not like to disobey the instructions received from the Circle Office.

When Nayak came back to the branch in the evening, I informed him about the receipt of letter from the Circle Office. I also told him that I had returned the cheques of the two firms as the amount exceeded the limits sanctioned to them. When Nayak came to know that the cheques had been issued in favour of FCI, he was totally upset. Some of the cheques returned were for small amounts and that upset him more.

Nayak told me that FCI would definitely cancel the credit facility to the two firms once the dishonoured cheques received back. The firms would be forced thereafter to take delivery of wheat only against bank drafts. It was an impossible situation for them and the production at the units would suffer. It all boiled down to the units turning sick ultimately, which was not in the interest of the bank.

We managed to contact the FCI officials and got the cheques represented with great difficulty. Meanwhile, Nayak spoke to the DGM and took his permission to allow overdrawings in the two accounts. Our efforts enabled the two firms to retain their credit facility with FCI.  Over a period of time we could manage to get the two accounts regularized by sanction of need-based limits.

When I look back on the above incident, I feel I could not have taken a decision at my level to allow overdrawings in the accounts against the decision of the Circle Office. However, it remains a fact that Nayak had the capacity to take certain bold and pragmatic decisions in the interest of the bank and the clients as well. What was more – he was capable of obtaining the necessary approvals/permissions from the higher authorities as they had confidence over his decision taking capacity and integrity. This was quite in contrast with some other executives with whom I worked later. They were finding it difficult to take decisions even on simple matters owing to their risk-aversion nature!
------- (To be continued)
A V Krishnamurthy
Post Script:
One of the benefits of working as a Credit-Manager is the amount of satisfaction you derive in helping the genuine entrepreneurs. After writing down the above episode, I was curious to know the present position of the parties involved (after a gap of over 25 years) by going through the relevant websites. I was already aware that the brothers Hemant and Sunil had become successful entrepreneurs by floating the Srei Group in Kolkata. It is interesting to know that while Palsons is doing extremely well, the two Kanoria brothers have reached great heights in the industrial field of West Bengal. Here is their current position:

Palsons Drugs Pvt Ltd

Palsons Drugs traces its history back to 1984, when Mr. H. K. Paul the founder of the well renowned and diversified Palsons business group of Calcutta, India, entered the domain of manufacturing and marketing of pharmaceutical ethical formulations. As time progressed, this business grew steadily, and in 1993, Palsons Drugs focused their attention to Dermatological. With the increasing awareness amongst people about the health of their skin, the decision of choosing Dermatology, as the specialty to serve with focus and devotion, in the hindsight seems to be a strategic one. Over the years, Palsons Drugs expanded its operations to reach the entire product range to practically all major parts of India.

A young company willing to learn, improvise and go that extra mile, Palsons Drugs is among the first few upcoming pharmaceutical companies in India with national coverage and international standards. With the world-standard WHO-GMP certified manufacturing facilities, Quality is the way of life at Palsons. The ISO 9001:2000 certified company is also the first company from Eastern India to win the most prestigious and much coveted Quality Excellence Award from IDMA.

Srei Group

Srei is a Holistic Infrastructure Institution, constantly and consistently ideating to deliver innovative solutions in infrastructure space, thus playing a significant role in nation-building for over two decades, both in urban and rural India. Srei's businesses include Infrastructure Equipment Leasing & Finance, Infrastructure Project Finance, Advisory & Development, Insurance Broking, Venture Capital, Capital Market and Sahaj e -Village. Srei has a pan-India presence with a network of 73 offices and has also replicated its business model overseas with three offices in Russia. Srei is the first Indian infrastructure financing institution to get listed on the London Stock Exchange. Srei Equipment Finance Pvt. Ltd., a joint venture between Srei Infrastructure and BNP Paribas Leasing Solutions, a wholly owned subsidiary of BNP Paribas, is a Srei Group company engaged in Infrastructure Equipment Leasing and Financing Business.

Hemant Kanoria - Chairman & Managing Director
He has over 27 years of experience in industry, trade and financial services. He is the former President of the Calcutta Chamber of Commerce, past Chairman of the NBFI Task Force, FICCI and a member of the Steering Committee of TERI's Repository of Environmental Activities and Technology, former member of Board of Governors of Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta and Chairman, Infrastructure Committee, Confederation of Indian Industry (Eastern Region).

Sunil Kanoria - Vice Chairman
Chartered Accountant with more than 17 years of experience in the financial service industry. He is a governing body member of Construction Industry Development Council (CIDC), ASSOCHAM and among other responsibilities he has served as past President in Merchants' Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Indian Hire Purchase Association (FIHPA) and Hire Purchase & Lease Association (HPLA).
Dear AVK

The people of the ilk of Shri BRN are very rare to come by in the Banking Industry.   Such people are needed not only by Industrialists but also the people who work under them.  You are slowly revealing the secret of your success in the profession.


N. Narayanan

Reading these memoirs makes me feel that banking is an attractive career option, where one can have financial security, challenging roles that lead to personal growth, and also the satisfaction of really helping people build their lives. :o)


Dear AVK,
Very rarely we get such a type of persons like Shri BRN with pragmatic approach. It will be a pleasure to work under such people.