The Inspection Department at our Head Office was handling all the files under investigation by the CBI. The department sent me a letter asking me to call on them before appearing before the CBI. It was not the first time that I was meeting a CBI officer. Earlier I had handled a CBI official who had visited our branch for investigation of the imported consignment of one of the two outstation units of the same party. But in the said case bank was perfectly in order in opening the letter of credit in terms of sanction and the exchange control rules.
I met a Senior Manager named Bose at the inspection department. Mr. Bose was fully aware of the company’s case and the circumstances under which the branch was forced to release the enhanced limits to the company. He told me that the CBI Officer who was dealing with the investigation had been fully briefed and the innocent officials like me would not be harassed by the CBI. That gave me some relief. I also came to know that the Divisional Manager Kulkarni, Senior Manager Kudva, the two officers working under me (who had inspected the stock subsequent to Kudva’s inspection) and another officer who had handled the supply bills of the company had also been summoned by the CBI on different days.
I could not manage to get in touch with any of the officers before appearing before the CBI official. Hence it was difficult for me to decide what type of statement I could give to the official. I was expecting the official to handle me in a fair manner in view of what Bose had told me. But I was mistaken. The official talked tough. He made it appear that he had already concluded that the bank officials had colluded to favour the party. His strategy was to create a fear psychosis and extract additional information from the bank officials. He had with him a report given by the inspection team from the Head Office and his questions to me were based on the said report.
It became clear to me that the official was not fully aware of the internal systems of our bank. I stood my ground and told him that my role was only secondary during the stock inspection. I also proved to him that my signatures were obtained later and the copy of the statement sent to Circle Office had only the signature of Kudva. (I had managed to obtain a Xerox copy of the statement from the Circle Office for the purpose). The official asked me to go. However, he told me that I may be summoned again at a later date. As I was leaving he told me that his intention was not to cause harm to innocent bank officials!
After completion of my semi-urban service, I was transferred to our Trinity Circle, MG Road branch as Senior Manager. One particular day I got a call from one of the officers who was back in Bangalore and who was also involved in the case. As he had worked earlier in the HRD section at the Head Office he had his contacts there. He told me that he had reliably learnt that the CBI may file a criminal complaint against us and it would be better for us to apply for an anticipatory bail. This news came to me as a nightmare. I had to spend many sleepless nights. But ultimately nothing of the sort happened.
Meanwhile Mr. Kulkarni the Divisional Manager who had recommended the enhanced limits was to retire on superannuation. The bank hurried up and served a charge sheet on him. The enquiry in his case was also held on a fast-track basis. It appears he was awarded some minor punishment and allowed to retire. After some time all the others including me were served charge sheets by the bank. In my entire banking career till then I had not received a single explanation letter from the bank. But Mr. Kudva had managed to spoil my unblemished records.
The bank took its own time to conduct the enquiry of the charge sheets issued to us. Ultimately a Divisional Manager called Bhaskar Kamath was appointed as the enquiry officer. He sent a personal message to me to call on him. He told me that he knew the entire case and was aware of the role of Kudva in involving me in the case. He assured me that I could expect a fair verdict from him. By that time I was working as Senior Manager at our Race Course Road branch. The Officers Association appointed Mr. Viswanathan, Manager, to defend me. He did a very thorough job on my behalf.
I should mention here a special comic role played by a gentleman during the entire episode. This gentleman was an old acquaintance of me as he was an officer at the Girgaum branch in Mumbai, which was my first assignment for inspection way back in 1977. He was in the HO team that conducted an in-depth study of the account. The entire charge sheet was based on the said report. While we were not aware of the contents of the report, this gentleman would call on me several times and tell me that he knew that I was forcefully involved in the case. He would also say that he would give me several ideas to get out of the situation. But he never revealed them to me!
This gentleman was also made a witness along with the CBI Officer during the enquiry. I had told Mr. Viswanathan about him. He told me not to take him seriously. During the enquiry we could make out that his stand would only harm my interest. As a tactic, Viswanathan made it a point to shout him down every time he opened his mouth! He followed a similar strategy with the CBI Officer to prove that he was not well versed with our internal systems including stock inspection.
The enquiry report came out within after some time. The enquiry officer (Bhaskar Kamath) had agreed that my signatures were taken at a later date to involve me in the case. But I was not completely absolved from the responsibility as I had signed the inspection report. A loss of one increment was imposed on me as punishment. But I had already reached the maximum pay in my scale and hence the penalty was only sentimental. A dark chapter in my career had come to an end.
I came to know that Mr. Kudva had taken a stand during the enquiry that the entire responsibility was on me only! According to him as Senior Manager he had only accompanied me to the party’s place! Mr. Viswanathan told me to go through his statement to see how he had let me down badly. I was not interested. I left it at that. I came to know that a punishment was imposed on him also.
Hardly one year later, I was posted as Senior Manager to the branch where Kudva was the Divisional Manager! We had to work together for one more year! There were no hard feelings. We worked together smoothly. Life is like that!
------- (To be continued)