Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Oh Kolkata! - Episode No.10

Even though Maller was a toughie in discharging his official duties, he was a very simple and soft man in his private life. I was told that his wife had some health problems due to which he had to himself take care of his children in the matter of their food, school-going and other activities. It was quite a burden on him in addition to his tough official life. But he never gave up his fighting spirits and moved unstinted towards his goal of disciplining the Union leaders. Bravo! Maller! I never saw another character in my life as committed to the purpose as you were!

While I appreciated Maller’s fighting spirits, I had my own reservations about the way he tackled the issues in the aftermath of the Gherao episode. While the Divisional Manager Ramamurthy gave a free hand to him, the Union leaders took the fight to the next level. They initiated their non-cooperation act with the most sensitive segment in the bank - the Cash Department. I have earlier mentioned that the Canning Street branch was handling a record amount of cash and the closing balance used to be in excess of Re1 crore even in those days. It had become a practice to seek additional insurance cover on daily basis by sending a telegram to the Investments Section in the Head Office. While the excess holding was lifted by the Currency Chest in the morning hours, additional cash would pour in from the customers at the same time. The receipts were handled by as many as eight cashiers. The branch was able to reduce the closing cash considerably by collecting the cash from the receipt cashiers from time to time. The cash would be counted by an officer immediately and handed over to the payment cashiers to reduce accumulation.

The Union leaders struck at this very sensitive spot of the branch by declaring that the receipt cashiers would hand over the cash only at the end of the day after they had tallied their physical cash with the total receipts. The management was in no position to force the cashiers to continue their existing practice of handing over the cash at frequent intervals. This one particular stand of the Union made the entire working system in the cash department go haywire. Firstly the major part of the closing cash of previous day could not be handed over to the Currency Chest people as the same was required to be given to payment cashiers for that day’s payments. The officer in charge of cash was made to sit idle as he could not get the cash for counting from the receipt cashiers. The final result was that the closing cash at the branch started getting almost doubled. The Canning Street branch became virtually a Mini-Currency Chest of the bank!

But the worst part of the scenario was that all the eight cashiers started handing over the cash simultaneously at the end of the closing hours of the branch for counting, stating that they could tally it only at that time! It became a Herculean task for the management to count the cash at that late hour. The other members of Maller’s core team (who had nothing to do with the cash department) including me, James, Radhakrishnan, Subramaniam and Gharpure would join the venture of counting the huge cash after we were through with our normal duties. Officially, the cashiers could leave the cash counter only after the cash was checked and confirmed by the officers. This was to the advantage of them as they started marking overtime for their overstay.

Initially the counting used to be over by 8 pm (against the normal closing time of 5 pm). But having tasted the blood (the overtime allowance), the Union found that the management was simply at its mercy with regard to the time of handing over the cash. The cashiers started postponing the handing over of cash gradually and it reached a point where we could leave the branch only by 10-11 pm in the night! The only consolation for us was that Maller would drop us at our homes even at the dead of night! But it turned out to be a nightmare for our families. As for the cashiers they had their own arrangement to drop them at their homes. A small group of employees used to extend them moral support by sitting at the branch in the late hours while playing cards! Maller used to sit at his chambers patiently all the while keeping himself somehow engaged! Kolkata was known for its load-shedding in those days. The branch was provided with a generator on hiring basis and a representative of the hiring company would sit in the branch to start the generator as and when power went off.

The Union had targeted the cash department initially from a strategic point of view. It was aware that its members may not support it in the long run if the action got prolonged indefinitely. The main advantage in the cash department was the inevitability of payment of overtime allowance, which came as a reward to the workmen for their non-cooperation! But the Union was not just satisfied with this. The leaders were threatening to take the fight to the next level. Our deposit section had not been affected by the action so far as we had some very good committed employees including supervisors. Some of the leaders would call on me often and tell me that the Union was just delivering ‘homeopathic doses’ (supposed to be mild with no side-effects) and that the ‘allopathic doses’ may start anytime! One of the leaders even told me that there was a time when the employees would go all the way to the Railway Station to bid farewell to a Manager on transfer. But as things stood at present he foresaw a situation where the same employees would come all the way to the station only to throw stones on the compartment occupied by the Manager!

The next step resorted to by the Union was to exhibit its strength in the bank at Kolkata. A massive gathering of its members in the city was held at our branch after office hours on a particular day and a loud demonstration with menacing slogans was conducted in front of the chambers of the Divisional Manager and the Senior Manager. I should admit here that the slogans in Bengali were highly appealing in the way they were drafted and shouted at! There is a kind of melody in the way they pronounce the words “Hobe Naa! Hobe Naa! (We will not allow! We will not allow!). But being at the receiving end, we had no mood to appreciate them.

I should mention here that the Union had some members with an artistic bent of mind. A special cartoon for the occasion had been designed by one of them. A big hoarding with the cartoon was inaugurated by displaying the same in front of the cabin of the Divisional Manager to commemorate (!) the occasion.  The cartoon had been titled “Maller and his Gang”. While Maller was shown as leading the gang (With DM Ramamurthy remaining as a silent spectator), the blind followers were shown as sheep marked with the names Padmanabhan, James, Subramanian and Radhakrishnan. Even though my name was not specifically mentioned, I was supposed to be one among the remaining sheep!
-------To be continued----
A V Krishnamurthy

No comments: