Tuesday, November 29, 2022

My years in service

By EMN Updated: Jan 09, 2014 9:43 pm

Khekiye K. Sema

Architecturally speaking, Nagaland House at 29 Aurangazeb Road had a very unimpressive internal layout. One could see the roof from the lobby and the staircase winding up to the third floor. With the help of the Junior Engineer, PWD, a technically sound and strong floor/ceiling was designed.

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]r. Chandra was the reigning officer of the Nagaland House, New Delhi from whom I took over charge. I stayed in Room No. 7 for a week to enable the incumbent to pack and move out. It was a very useful time of observation. Management laxity in general was noticeably commonplace. Anyone but anyone was being allowed to stay in 29 Aurangazeb Road, generating a very unruly, undignified environ. With immediate effect Nagaland House, 29 Aurangazeb Road was declared a turf for VIP and senior bureaucrats only. Junior officers of the rank of Deputy Secretary and below were assigned RK Puram House. The public sectors who mostly came up to Delhi for medical treatments and of course the students were also assigned to RK Puram. The first priority was to sort out the Student’s agitation problem. A meeting was called. When given the opportunity to explain their dissatisfaction it all boiled down to the DRC not giving them due prompt attention when they needed their certificate and document attestation, keeping it unattended to for days when it was needed urgently for admission. This was their base complaint. Once disgruntled you tend to add more rubbish in the garbage can and so they accused Mr. Chandra for misuse of Nagaland House pool car as his personal attached vehicle and using the refrigerator that belonged to the house, in his residence. I assured the students that they were welcome both to the office and to my residence anytime and that their needs will be taken care of as promptly as is possible under the circumstances and also offered to have a monthly review of their problems if they so desired. As for the rest of their complaints I politely told them that it was none of their business. I informed them that even if vehicle attachment policy for DRC was not designated the duty demands a dedicated vehicle to attend to various duties at odd hours and I intended to keep one of the vehicles attached to me as well. If the fridge was at the cost of reducing the management services in the House it would accordingly be deployed where needed, if not the fridge would remain where it was. Opportunity was taken to inform the students that they will no longer be allowed to walk in into 29 Aurangazeb Road and harass the inmates with donation and other requests without prior approval from the guests of the house. End of discussion. We had a very cordial Student-Management relationship thereafter.The first ominous sign of trouble cropped up with the telephone bill. The Lady Wife of the Chief Secretary had stayed in Room 4 (VIP Room) for about a month and raked up a bill of over Rs. 79,000/- within a month with all her STD calls that included regular overseas calls to her children. A report was sent to Home Department and STD call facility from the VIP Rooms were disconnected with the exception of the designated VIP room of the CM. Initially the VIP’s complaints were persistent but the rule remained unchanged and they got used to it. When Mrs. Obed came again for the second visit after I had taken over she was allotted a general room. She saw red. Mr. Jain the room allotment officer in-charge was in the direct line of fire and in a desperate jam. He made several very quick trips wearing out the compound turfs to request me to let her use a VIP room, but was refused. Then came the turn of Mr. Pawah, the vehicle detailment officer, for attaching a vehicle to the lady. The criteria was simple: if she had any official duty to perform for the Govt. of Nagaland, she would be provided transport but not for her private business. Period. Both these non-local staffs were in the habit of sucking up to the VIP and were used to doing everything beyond the norms to please them. They however were left with no option but to conform to the set rules. She was a very upset lady on her return to Kohima. When I had visited Kohima for official matters and was sitting with Mr. Imtikumzuk in the Finance Department one marwari businessman, Mr. Omprakash dropped in. He was a man who seldom smiled but that day he had a very unusual broad grin on his face when he saw me, which was a strange unexpected phenomena. He explained the reason why: “One evening”, he said, “while I was sitting with the Chief Secretary, his lady wife who had just returned from Delhi, stormed into the room extremely agitated. She had been humiliated by the DRC she said and asked her husband to immediately have you transferred. Mr. Obed only smiled and explained that as per rules she was not entitled to the privileges she was expecting. Khekiye did not go to Delhi willingly, he told her and would be very happy if transferred back as she asked. The lady thought for a while. Then she said… oh in that case keep him there forever”. That’s what the grin was all about. This is an internal story from the horse’s mouth that I chanced upon. The chorus sung by all the Minister’s wives in the absence of their husbands was no different when allotted general rooms as well. All of them without exception, sang the same annoyed chorus, “we will see you”, on their departure from Delhi. They too eventually got tired of singing the same tune and settled down to the norm set for the House in their future visits. Other self important political wannabes also initially showed a great deal of aggression when sent down to RK Puram house. One evening I got a frantic call from a harassed front desk saying that an angry politician wanted to speak to me and passed the phone to him. “Mr. DRC this is Thomas Ngulley. Why am I being refused room in Aurangazeb Road? I am also a big fish you know”, he said with much annoyance in his voice. I decided to meet the big fish personally, so dropped the phone and went down to the lobby. There he was, the angry young big fish. I sternly told him that the rule has been set and he had a choice: he could go down to RK Puram where room will be given to him or he would have to get himself a hotel reservation. Seeing that I was desperately trying to control my temper he opted for RK Puram and left quietly. The regularity of having annoyed guests was beginning to wear us out so I put up a notice in the front reception desk in a prominent place where all could see. It read, “It is nice to be important but more important to be nice”.
Mr. Anil Kumar, IAS had been newly posted as the Resident Commissioner a few months before my joining. He had evicted Mr. Chandra and had arbitrarily taken over the designated office room of DRC so I was left without an office. Our respective area of responsibility was clear…he would represent the official business of the State Govt. and liaise with the GoI while I would independently manage the House affairs. The only exception was that he wanted to perform my VIP protocol duty of receiving the Governor and the CM from the Air port…a responsibility I most gladly handed over before he even completed his sentence. Since I was left without an office space and had to do with a makeshift arrangement, a spacious unused room was selected, renovated, carpeted, furnished, air conditioned and I moved in. The room was spacious enough to comfortably fit in a conference table as well. It outclassed the original office of the DRC. Thereafter, many a senior IAS officers would wonder why Mr. Anil, as a senior officer, was sitting in a less dignified office space as compared to that of the DRC his subordinate and some would prompt him to take over my room. Mr. Anil was however, a thorough gentleman…unlike me. He made no such move. I purposely played spoil sport and did not volunteer to move out either. I was still smarting from having functioned as a refugee for the first few months in the sweltering heat of Delhi. It stayed that way for my entire tenure. The takeover of this room by RC happened only after my departure.
At that time DRC had no financial authority other than the salary for the staffs. Every little expenditure had to be sent down to the Home Department for sanction…the electricity bills, the water bills, the bills for washing linen, the monthly POL expenditure, appointment of grade IV staffs etc. A comprehensive operational handicaps were minutely listed and submitted to the Govt. for rectification. There were many a times when POL bills were not promptly cleared and we were left at the mercy of the petrol pumps refusing to give us credit facility. I made it clear to the Govt. that when fund runs out, fuel for the detailed vehicles will have to be purchased by the officers concerned but that the House would no longer beg the POL pumps for credits. The Government for a change took prompt action and suitably empowered the DRC to sanction all operational cost from Delhi. The shortage of drivers were also appointed directly without Home Departments’ interference.
Architecturally speaking, Nagaland House at 29 Aurangazeb Road had a very unimpressive internal layout. One could see the roof from the lobby and the staircase winding up to the third floor. With the help of the Junior Engineer, PWD, a technically sound and strong floor/ceiling was designed. When the renovation plan was discussed with Mr. Binod Kumar, who had by then taken over as the Home Commissioner, he was not too agreeable and advised me to hire interior designer instead. We could ill afford such luxury without a budget. I decided to bypass him. At that time we had just Rs.3,00,000/- as our establishment budget. The whole amount was diverted for the renovation. That year we did not even buy a pin for the office. I took down the proposal to Kohima, requested Mr.Pienyu, the Joint Secretary, Home to forward my proposal to Finance without routing it through the Home Commissioner. He did so since it was a relatively small amount, albeit reluctantly. Finance cleared the proposal on the same day and I headed back to Delhi with the sanction. It took me roughly four months to renovate the whole internal layout. On the day we were fixing a glass door at the base of the staircase we had a minor accident. A non-local businessman had gone upstairs before the glass door was up. It was already up when he came running down and he went right through the glass door smashing the glass all over the floor. He sustained minor cuts and bruises but his pocket must have hurt the most. I made him pay for the whole door assembly including the transportation cost. The teak panelled lobby was now looking more elegant and the Conference Hall with a central chandelier and wall papering was as good as any five star establishment. The dining area was also spruced up sufficiently and had a dignified air around it. When the Chief Minister came up to Delhi, he was sufficiently surprised and pleased to see the transformation that had taken place. He confirmed his satisfaction by inviting his peers and colleagues for a State dinner in Nagaland house for the very first time. The construction of the house guard cabin at the gate and parking garage in the compound caused a small run in with the Delhi Municipal Council who objected because their prior clearance was not taken. I had done my job as I would have done in Nagaland and was made to realise that this was not Nagaland. They sealed the premises. Mr. Jain was sent to sort out the matter with the authority concerned. They had rules… we violated it. They apparently wanted their pound of flesh and was holding us where it hurts. Mr. Jain spoke their language well…he bribed them. We removed the sealing tapes from the garage. My discomfort began when Mr. Jain verbally requested me to reimburse the Rs.15,000/- he said he had spent on bribing the DMC personal. How was I to know how much had actually been spent… since receipt was not issued for the bribe taken? The level of trust in the middleman was equally in doubt. This was a problem I left unresolved before my transfer from Delhi.
When Mr. Lalo, the Finance Commissioner came to Delhi I discussed the possibility of renovating RK Puram establishment as well. I also requested him for renovation of the DRC’s official residence which was a very small two room apartment. After investigating the premises and reviewing the renovation plan together, he assured me that funds will be provided and that I may immediately go ahead. With this assurance I went full steam ahead. The DRC residence was added with a dining room and a guest room. RK Puram establishment was designed more as an independent flat without internal connectivity. Some walls had to be taken down to create connecting passages between the three separate wings so that the bearers could serve the guests more conveniently instead of taking the breakfast, lunch and dinner out to the street first before being served in the rooms, which was the case then. Altogether 15 rooms were renovated and furnished and the Junior officers were also given respectable rooms for a change. The basement space was converted into the NCF Chapel and few other compartments were also allotted to the Delhi Naga Student’s Union for their use as office. For the first time the huge contingent of Officers who had come up for the Plan Discussion were all housed in 29 Aurangazeb Road and RK Puram.
By now I was nearing a year in Delhi. For the very first time I pleaded with Mr. SC Jamir, the Chief Minister, to have me transferred back to Nagaland. I told him that my services could better be used in Nagaland now that my job in Delhi was done, and the remaining routine task of washing bed sheets and allotting rooms to guests and detailing duty vehicles could well be done by anyone else. Having initiated the transfer topic I pestered the Hon’ble CM relentlessly like a plague with every visit that he made to Delhi. He must have been fed up with my persistence and finally on 1st August 1989 my ominous 13th transfer order in 15 years service happily arrived… to sadly join Health & Family Welfare Department. The commanding officer of this department was Mr. ET Sunup. Some people are born lucky all the time.
The writer is a retired IAS Officer, Forest Colony, Kohima

By EMN Updated: Jan 09, 2014 9:43:05 pm