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Op-Ed

My Years in Service

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By EMN Updated: Jan 16, 2014 8:49 pm
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CONTINUED-22…

I saw Sunep come to office only after 1.00PM, as was his usual office coming time, while I was impatiently pacing the floor. I followed him into his office and latched the door from within. My intention was clear to him. I had thrown all caution to the wind. That he was my controlling officer didn’t amount to anything after his dishonourable act. His total lack of common curtsey or gratitude for the assistance rendered on his behalf vis-a-vis Chishi, was unpalatable. I was just unable to show any  respect for the sanctimonious creature sitting before me after his back stab. 

BY 7th August 1989, I joined my station as the Joint Secretary in the Health and Family Welfare Department. Mr. E T Sunep IAS was the Secretary in-charge. This tenure turned out to be the most unpleasantly disappointing experience that I had ever had to tolerate in my entire career. I met a human specimen without honour. The only thing that held me back from making it public during the service years was the restraining factor of bureaucratic protocol concerning free expression in our official dealings. I no longer am bound by that protocol and am at liberty to recall the brutal details of everything as it happened. My lack of curtsey in recalling the events may kindly be forgiven. It was a bitter pill I had to swallow then that I am spitting out now.
The first thing Mr. E T Sunep did when I joined him was to withdraw the charge of Referral Hospital earlier attached to the Joint Secretary Mr. Chottapadhaya directly, from whom I took over. It didn’t bother me much since this was considered a problematic white elephant, liability ridden sector. The significance of this move by him was lost to me. Little did I fathom that there were people in the bureaucracy thriving on the fertile ground of liability. At that time I was unaware that there were other liability files he was handling directly without due process from the branch. It took an incident for me to find this out. One fine morning an angry young Chakhesang gentleman came to the Administrative Circuit House where I was residing, and started angrily accusing me of partiality. He was saying, “we are small fries but we are Nagas. Why are you people only giving all the priority to non-local big suppliers and neglecting people like me with just Rs.2-3 lakhs worth of supply to the department”?!! I was totally taken aback not knowing what he was talking about. I asked him to calm down and tell me exactly what he was referring to since I was completely unaware of what he was saying. He looked at me with absolute disbelief and accusatorily continued, “You mean to say you don’t know anything”? He was beginning to piss me off and so I finally told him bluntly to either explain himself or leave. I was not particularly enjoying this morning’s discussion one bit. Only then did he settle down and explained that our Department had been sanctioned 25 crores rupees (I forget the exact amount) to clear the liability. All the pending bills of non-local big fish suppliers had been catered to but that smaller Naga folks like him were completely being left out of the equation he said. I jokingly told him that I was only a Joint Secretary in the department and such a file was much too senior for the likes of me and that I was not privy to its scrutiny or process…that he would have to meet the Secretary of the Department to clarify his situation. He left feeling quite apologetic for his earlier behaviour. Along with the press coverage came a lot of market talks that the Party in power was raising their political fund from this liability clearance with a lot of speculation floating around as to what percentage was being shared between the party, the Minister and Secretary in-charge of the Department. Rumour was also afloat about the dissatisfaction of the Secretary, unhappy with his value equivalent being undermined. It was only then that clarity dawned on me as to why the liability files were ranked senior to me. I frankly felt a great deal of relief being left out as a subject of ridicule in the press. I slept peacefully through it all.
My assignment was the usual mundane file pushing job and had not expected any earth shaking events to hit my immediate sector within the department. One fine day, a meeting notice was received from Mr. K L Chishi, as Chairman of the Legislation Committee for review of “Prevention of food adulteration Programme” that was pending Legislation concerning our department. This notice was promptly processed and submitted to the Secretary. He sent back the file with his signed note sheet endorsement…”seen”. Another reminder notice came a day before the meeting. I had sent the communication down to the Under Secretary to have it processed and put up immediately, but apparently the dealing assistant was not in office that day and the reminder notice could not be shown to the Secretary for the second time. What transpired next was like shit hitting the ceiling fan. Mr. Chishi was for the first time sitting with his full members of the Legislation Committee in attendance along with Dr. Toshi, the Director H&FW and the Programme Officer, Dr. Sashi. The Secretary was conspicuous by his absence. After waiting for a while Dr. Sashi was dispatched to remind the Secretary of the meeting. Dr. Sashi came back confirming to the Chairman that the Secretary had been informed and would be coming. (This part of the story I had not known then). They all waited some more and finally when the Secretary still did not make an appearance Mr. Chishi lost his calm. He called off the meeting and immediately issued a show cause notice against Mr. ET Sunep as to why the Secretary should not be censured. Minister H&FW was also endorsed a copy of the same. The department was in a flap. Mr. Sunep wrote an unqualified apology to the Chairman, Legislation Committee. I personally offered to help out and took this letter and handed it over to Mr. KL Chishi requesting him to forgive the Secretary for his forgetfulness. When I said “People do forget sometimes”, Chishi blew his top instead and burst out angrily, “what forget! I sent the Programme Officer to remind him. He came back confirming that the Secretary had been informed and would be coming! What ‘forget’ are you talking about! It was a simple show of arrogance undermining my Committee… that’s all”?! Despite his extreme annoyance Mr. Chishi relented after my entreating with him for a considerable length of time and finally agreed not to take this matter any further. The dubious nature of Mr. Sunep however got the better of him. Having rendered an unqualified apology ought to have sufficed but his royal IAS pride just didn’t allow him to end it there. He had to explain himself to the Minister who had also received the same copy of the show cause notice.
One evening while sitting together with Mr. Chishi in my brother-in-law’s house, he casually came up saying, “Khekiye, you do not seem to be doing too well in your present department. Your Secretary has written a long letter berating your performance and threatening a disciplinary action against you”. I was stunned. Chishi said this confidential letter of the Secretary was addressed to the Minister, H&FW who in turn had forwarded an official copy to him. I had to see this. Next morning I rushed down to the Assembly to have a look at this letter. By the time I completed reading this unsavoury confidential letter of explanation by Mr. Sunep to our Minister, I was already floating at the ceiling level. I asked Mr. Chishi to let me have the letter but he rightly refused to let me have it since it was an official document but suggested that the same copy would be available with the Minister H&FW since it was him who had forwarded it officially. The Minister was not in office when I reached his station but I was able to retrieve a copy of this filthy letter from his PS. Whatever little respect I had for Mr. Sunep went out through the window. Since the Minister had still not arrived office, I decided to request for an audience with the Chief Secretary. I was unable to maintain my composure while explaining the whole sordid affair to Mr. Obed, the Chief Secretary and concluded with a request for transfer. His response after listening to me was simple. “Don’t be a coward”, he said, “we all know who Sunep is and you were purposely sent there for a reason. You go and talk to him man to man and sort out the issue”. I tried to explain to the Chief Secretary that nothing good would come out of such a meeting but he had nothing more to say. I thanked him for his time and left. Next station…Minister H&FW. He had by now arrived and sitting alone in his chamber. I let fly my side of the story. Sunep had accused me for not keeping him informed. That was a blatant lie…the file was there to prove it. That the reminder letter did not reach him in time was true but the fact remained that the original notice was positively seen by him. My job didn’t include babysitting him or holding his dirty hands. Not a speck of curtsey or acknowledgement was shown for the favour I did him in personally delivering his letter of apology to Mr. Chishi and helped calm the aggravated situation against him. Instead he thanks me with a stab from behind. He reduced his status by not only pointing his dirty finger at me but also at the Director, Dr. Toshi and Dr. Sashi for failing to meet him for review of the subject before the meeting. His list of defaulter even went down to his PS for not reminding him. All of us were therefore liable for disciplinary action should he choose to do so, he wrote. He denied being reminded by Dr. Sashi on the day of the meeting…another set of lies literally questioning the integrity of Dr. Sashi. Representing untruth with a straight face seemed to be his professional virtue. I couldn’t find any satisfactory adjectives to describe a low life specimen sufficiently. I requested Mr. Niwang, the Hon’ble Minister H&FW to kindly have me transferred from his department. I no longer felt comfortable working with a treacherous human being without honour ready to stab you from behind at a drop of a hat. Mr. Niwang just blankly looked at me and said nothing. I then left him at peace and walked out. I was now fully resolved to take the advice of the Chief Secretary that Friday evening. While storming up to the office, which was located in a hired building belonging to Mr. Yashitsungba Ao in Lirie Colony, I bumped into my Under Secretary colleague, Mr. Temsuwati along the way. I flagged him down and enquired whether the Secretary was in office. He wasn’t there. I was aware that the Under Secretary used to play badminton with Mr. Sunep every evening so I let him know exactly what had transpired that morning in raw details and how I felt about it and requested him to convey to the Secretary that I intend to meet him first thing Saturday morning.
Saturday morning…I didn’t touch a single file other than the one which confirmed the fact of the Secretary having been informed of the meeting he had deliberately missed. The Secretary’s PS was instructed to immediately inform me the moment the Secretary arrived…then waited. I saw Sunep come to office only after 1.00PM, as was his usual office coming time, while I was impatiently pacing the floor. I followed him into his office and latched the door from within. My intention was clear to him. I had thrown all caution to the wind. That he was my controlling officer didn’t amount to anything after his dishonourable act. His total lack of common curtsey or gratitude for the assistance rendered on his behalf vis-a-vis Chishi, was unpalatable. I was just unable to show any respect for the sanctimonious creature sitting before me after his back stab. I first threw the opened file on to his desk, pointed at his endorsement in the note sheet that clearly read “seen” and signed by him. “What is this”?! I began without any preamble or curtsey, “and what is this”? …throwing the copy of his letter of explanation to our Minister. He had obviously not counted on this confidential letter falling into my hand and that he would get away with whitewashing his reputation. I had underlined his deceitful remark against me with my not very subtle rebuttal notes in the border of the page written in red ink. He read it but remained quiet. “You have threatened to call for explanation and take disciplinary action against me. I want that explanation call… now”! I demanded. He quietly said “No, I won’t”. “Don’t be a coward. Give it to me. I have the right to explain and clarify my position “! I said while still standing. He then plucked up a little bit of courage from somewhere to say, “in that case I will re-clarify the matter”. “Then I will re-re-clarify”! I retorted…my voice having risen a few decibel higher. He sat still without another word. This argument was going nowhere. I picked up the file and the letter in question, unlatched the door called him a coward again and walked out of his office and went straight home. Monday morning, Sunep sent for me. He began, “ Saturday evening, you were not in the right frame of mind and so I did not want to further provoke the situation…but I understand you met the Chief Secretary and the Minister”. “Yes I did”. “And I suppose you didn’t have too many complimentary things to say about me”? “NO, I did not.” On my affirmation he continued, “you know, as per the protocol you need the clearance of your controlling officer to do that”? This creature was beginning to get under my skin again. I told him that I was aware of the protocol requirement but in this case where it concerned my personal character being assassinated, such a need was absolutely unnecessary and that I would do it again and again if need be without his permission.
He then came out saying defensively that censure was a very serious matter for the career of an IAS officer, which compelled him to explain his position officially to keep his record clean. That was sick. I was not prepared to let this go without a fight. “Oh, so you consider your IAS as the only important thing worth salvaging huh? Honour doesn’t mean a thing to you does it? You are prepared to concoct any amount of lies, and unjustly hang your subordinate to save your skin? Well, my career as an NCS is as important to me as your IAS is to you. So I am not prepared to let your IAS drown my NCS “. I then told him again, “look, I dare you to simplify the matter by issuing your letter of explanation to me”? I then walked out. He never found his guts to issued that letter of explanation.
The grapevine had it that this Sunep character had approached the Chief Minister requesting him to either transfer him or me from the Department of H&FW but that it was impossible for us to work together. I fully concurred this sentiment. This was the only pleasant news in my entire tenure in the H&FW Department for which I owe him my thanks. Being the junior incumbent, on 7th February 1990, my 14th transfer order in a fifteen and a half years of service was received. I lasted 6 months in this God forsaken department. I didn’t have the heart to spend another moment more than required under the same roof with…this IAS thing. I left the department the same day the order was received without meeting the smug self-righteous royalty, yet again for the second time. I was slated to join the Planning Department with Mr. L Colney in command. Here we go again… I thought.
The writer is a retired IAS Officer Forest Colony, Kohima

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By EMN Updated: Jan 16, 2014 8:49:26 pm