My Years in Service
‘It was here that I had learnt in the harshest of way how important file management is… to ensure the paging of the communication being received and ensuring that the subject matter and the page in reference is carefully endorsed in the note sheet, which is the history of that file. I would wager that most NCS officers never even bother to scrutinize the files and only dhobi mark their signatures without any comment of their own. While this was an exceptional circumstance there is no telling that an unlucky junior officer could hang as a scapegoat for his/her carelessness while dealing with files that has corruption written all over it’. Read on
Khekiye K. Sema
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]FTER travelling the rough road of Aghunato, I was headed to the Secretariat as the Under Secretary in the Department of Supply. Mr. C. N Ngulley was my controlling Officer yet again as the Secretary. This was my third attachment with him. How he felt about me plaguing him I wouldn’t really know but for me he was now more like of a family member with whom I felt completely at ease. We were the only two officers in the Department. At that time Nagaland was receiving an average allotment of 500-1000 Metric Tonnes (MT) of Rapeseed oil per month. Leave aside using this oil, the Nagas were not even aware that such an oil existed and so no one missed it’s disappearance from the market. The Political class took full advantage of this and was conveniently disposing this allotment at Kolcatta. Undercurrent rumour had it that the going rate of commission was one lakh rupees per MT approximately. This was a high profile hush hush subject capitalized by the political creatures and the process for handling this consignment was strictly restricted to the level of the Secretary of the Department only. This file was senior to me. Mr. Ngulley was specifically assigned with the rapeseed oil disposal duty to Kolcutta and would be away for almost half the month each month and I would be left tending the backyard all on my own during those times. My happiness of a posting to a civilised sector was short-lived when the actual work began.
One morning I was called up by the Home Minister to his office. He was sitting with Two Marwari big wig businessmen, I later came to know to be Mr. S.S.Agarwalla and Mr. Omprakash. Two separate orders for CPO rice allotment had already been typed out in favour of some fictitious Mr. A or B Naga. 1500 MTs was meant for Mr. SS Agarwalla and another for 800 MTs for Mr. Omprakash respectively. The Minister wanted me to sign that pre-typed order on his table then and there. It was a very awkward moment. I had hardly been in this department for a week and I was not fully aware of my authority to issue such a huge consignment to private parties which was meant for public distribution in the first place. I requested the Home Minister to allow me the time to verify the same from the branch first. With full confidence that I would sign, the Minister asked the two Marwaris to follow me down to my office to collect the order. When I confirmed that such an order was beyond my sanctioned authority I tore up the typed order, threw it into the waste paper basket, spit on it and ordered the two goofies to leave my office. I just couldn’t fancy the idea of being bullied on behalf of the non-local businessmen. The first experience of jumping from the frying pan into the fire was dawning on me. As compared, Aghunato was beginning to appear more like child’s play. I expected the Minister to call me up but fortunately I was spared this embarrassment. Perhaps he also knew the illegitimacy of his order, trying to take advantage of fishing in a pond of another Department with a freshman chawkidar in charge.
Then came the extreme experience of a lifetime that no junior officer would have ever been exposed to before or be asked to do so, ever. It was extremely demeaning. What I am about to reveal is not a made up story for the sake of entertainment. One evening those same two Marwaris earlier mentioned came to my residence with another order, this time from the Minister of State for Supply. There was a serious rumour during this period that the Ruling Ministry was undergoing some minor tremor, perpetuating an uncertain time. The Marwari business class was in a hyper active mode in the corridors of power, pressurising and tempting the political animals to prepare for the aftershock, confidently fishing in troubled waters. It was an order for issue of 3500 MTs of rice. My Secretary was out of station. Despite the fact that this was an order of the Department’s Minister, I refused to carry out the order without the Secretary seeing it first since this authority was not vested in me. The time factor for them was apparently crucial and they obviously had no intention of waiting.
Since they determinedly persisted, I asked them to have the order of the Minister further endorsed by the Chief Secretary (CS). It was more intended to get rid of them from further pestering me. I told them that I would act only when administrative sanction was given by the CS. They had no choice left. They went and surprisingly came back shortly after, conveying the Chief Secretary’s assurance that he would protect me should something go wrong and that I should go ahead and have the order carried out. Here was a situation where I was being offered protection even before a commission of an action. When I resolutely refused to be protected by anyone but by the Law, they had no option but to go back to the Chief Secretary once more. This time a one word endorsement was made by the CS…”issue”. Next morning the order was carried out. The horror story then unfolded. A call came from the CS soon after, asking me to bring up the file in which allotment order had been issued. The CS opened the file, went straight for the order of the Minister of State, Supply and withdrew the page from the file saying that he would have it countersigned by the highest authority… the Chief Minister. In total despair I watched him put the paper into his dak- folder.
I was left with no evidence to prove that the allotment order in the file was based on the Minister of State, Supply duly sanctioned by the CS. Protesting would have been a futile exercise and so only made an impotent note in the note-sheet that the CS had withdrawn the page in question from the file, indicating the date and time and sent down the file to the branch. Within the hour I was called up again by the CS to bring up the same file. He went through my noting and reprimanded me. Apparently my noting was not as impotent as I thought.”What would the Government think, the CS taking out pages from the file..no..no..no!” he said as he rubbed out my remark in the boarder of the note-sheet.”I said I will have it countersigned by the highest authority so just wait. I will have it given back to you as soon as it is done. Don’t worry,” he said as he gave me back the file. Being a forgetful individual, I was worried sick and so rewrote the same thing in code and retained the file with me this time. CS obviously had an informer in my branch. When Mr.CN Ngulley returned to office I related all that had happened. The look in his face told me that he was not convinced even though he perfunctorily said OK. As luck and destiny would have it, both the Secretary and I, were called by the CS a few days later. As we entered his chamber a call came through and he had to leave to attend to a Minister first.
He asked us to wait for him and left. As soon as the door closed behind him I got up, went straight for the Dak-pad on the CS’s table. “ Hey, hey what are you doing!” Mr. CN Ngulley said in alarm. I was already a nervous wreck thinking about this incident for the past few weeks and so I couldn’t be bothered with his protest as I took full advantage of this divine intervention. I fortunately located the missing page and showed it to the Secretary. He quickly read the order of the Minister of State endorsed by CS but was more unsettled by my action. “Ok…Ok…Ok! I’ve seen it! Put it back! put it back!” he said as if his backside was on fire. I did. With the Secretary having seen the evidence, a huge load was finally unburdened. A week later I was called up again by the CS. “See, I told you I’d have it signed by the highest authority?” he said as he gave me the missing page. It was countersigned by the Chief Minister alright but …the CS had rubbed out his own endorsed signature. My action had been converted to a purely political order being implemented without the authority to do so.
I ran across to my Secretary and showed it to him. It didn’t strike him initially, but his reaction was an old generation classic when I pointed out the missing signature of the CS. With an opened mouth he beat his chest several times and said, “My goodness, who are we working with! Khekiye, it’s Ok. I’ve seen it all. You don’t have to worry about this anymore”. He obviously was aware that I was having a sleepless time over this affair. It was here that I had learnt in the harshest of way how important file management is… to ensure the paging of the communication being received and ensuring that the subject matter and the page in reference is carefully endorsed in the note sheet, which is the history of that file. I would wager that most NCS officers never even bother to scrutinize the files and only dhobi mark their signatures without any comment of their own. While this was an exceptional circumstance there is no telling that an unlucky junior officer could hang as a scapegoat for his/her carelessness while dealing with files that has corruption written all over it. In an unpleasant circumstance such as this, I was made to learn these intricacy of file work very early in the day. I can only hope the officers of today learn from other people’s experience and pay attention to file management for their own sakes. They ought to understand that the value system has drastically changed over the years and ruthless survival game is in style where questionable gains are being sought at any cost.
During this time the service condition of Nagaland Civil Service (NCS) was in shambles. As a probationer in the ATI (1974), I was given the privilege of a guided tour by Mr. R.L. Jamir NCS, then an Under Secretary. “Come” he said, “ let me introduce you to all our NCS ‘Tribe’ in the Secretariat”. The NCS officers were mostly retiring at the rank of Deputy Secretary with a handful being elevated to Joint Secretary before retirement more for pension benefit. Mr. Imtikumzuk was a Deputy Secretary and was elected the President of the NCS Association and I as General Secretary that year. I spent some quality time studying the Service Rules which was extremely detrimental for our Cadre. There was no defined post reservation for NCS officers at the level of Secretary or Additional Secretary or Joint Secretary. We could only be considered for posting as DC to the District when there were no IAS officers to man the post. In effect NCS was a totally neglected and relegated service. Yet, prior to my taking up the assignment of the Association, there was no concerted effort being put in to repaint this distorted picture. It was during this stint as the General Secretary of the Association that I drafted a memorandum to the Government titled, “The Time for Reckoning” in which we demanded for reservation of 4 posts of Secretaries to the Government of Nagaland, 6 posts of Additional Secretaries and 6 posts of Joint Secretaries.
We also demanded 50% reservation of DCs’ post by right and not on the condition tied with IAS being available or not being available to man the post. Other lesser issues were also included but these were the focus areas. The house debated and ratified the proposal and we charted out our plan of Action. At that time the Nagaland Secretariat Service Association used to resort to wearing ‘black band’ and ‘pen down’ strike to register their agitation. As a concentrated group such an approach had been working for them reasonably effectively. Many of the ‘doves’ in our Association suggested that we follow suit. The ‘hawks’ however felt that in our case it would look stupid wearing black band or resort to pens down strike in the outpost which would have absolutely no impact other than to be seen with our pants down. It was finally decided that all NCS Officers would be called to Kohima compulsorily without exception, with or without permission of the Controlling Officer, deposit the Govt. attached vehicles in the local ground and stay off duty until the Government responded positively.
Only then would the Government feel the absence of our tribe in the field. The IAS would have to acknowledge our worth when exposed to spade work that they would have to undertake in our absence. A dateline was set and notified for the Government to consider our demands after which our action plan would be put to motion. The NCS Tribe from Kohima and a few from the outposts were all huddled in Kohima DC’s conference hall awaiting the Government’s next move. At 12 midnight before the expiry of the dateline, the representatives and Office Bearers of the Association were called up by the Hon’ble Chief Minister at his residential Office for the final negotiation. The IAS lobby had worked overtime to undermine the demands of the NCS Association. We however were able to sufficiently convince the CM to acknowledge the reality that spade work of every achievement in the field were the results of NCS Officers’ efforts which were compiled by the IAS officers and reported to the Government with a flourish in their fine English, as their accomplishment without credit being given where it was due. NCS Officers were being sent as DCs only when Law and Order situation was out of control in the Districts and forgotten at better times.
The Govt. finally conceded to our aggressive pitch allowing a post or two of Secretary, four posts of Additional Secretaries, four/six posts of Joint Secretaries and District posting as DC to be considered on merit not totally subjected to IAS non-availability criteria. It was the first giant step forward for the NCS tribe, a breakthrough which many of our own seniors had initially been very sceptic as being over-ambitious. After the meeting concluded, we were all trooping out of the CM’s office when I was asked by the CM to remain. Now alone with him he said: “Why did you push the Govt. to the wall?” Those were his exact query. “Sir” I said, “I have only expressed the general will of the Association and it is not personal”. He sternly advised me to temper my aggression in the future. With a “yes Sir” I was relieved but felt like a marked man with a red flag planted in my turf. Nevertheless I felt reasonably elated that NCS had finally salvaged a little bit of Government’s recognition for our efforts in the field for a change.
After four months of working together, Mr. C.N Ngulley was posted out and Mr. L.L Yaden took over the Department of Supply in addition to his actual assignment as Agriculture Production Commissioner (APC). My uncomfortably exposed rear was finally protected when Mr. A. Sakhrie NCS was also brought in as the Joint Secretary. He would now act as the punching bag buffer for me from the Controlling officer and the crazy world beyond that I had been exposed to for a while.
Mr. L.L Yaden was a grey haired strict disciplinarian with a stern disposition and a stranger to smiling in the presence of his subordinates. One day Mr. Sakhrie and I were called up by a highly agitated Mr. Yaden. Apparently Mr. Sakhrie had personally been assigned to study a file on “wet sugar” or “swept sugar” then under the control of our Department which was being claimed by the Industry Department. He was to work out the argument to retain it. Not that it would have made much difference but I had neither been given an inkling nor appraised of the upstairs’ intention when this file was instead passed down to me by Mr. Sakhrie to study the issue and submit my analysis.
I carefully looked up the Food Corporation of India’s (FCI) definition of “wet/swept sugar”. This commodity was not meant for direct public consumption or distribution but to be used for industrial by-product like lozenge and sweetmeat. I elaborately summed it up in a page and submitted it stating that the department was dealing with direct consumable items and would be liable to public litigation for causing health hazard if mistakenly consumed directly. Letting the Department of Industry handle this sector was considered a more appropriate thing to do and was therefore recommended accordingly. Mr. Yaden verbally lashed out at Mr. Sakhrie in my presence for simply signing the file without an endorsement of a single comment and that too diametrically opposed to the instruction he had received. In this instance, Mr. Yaden in his anger had violated a bureaucratic etiquette of never reprimanding senior officers in front of their subordinates.
I felt awkwardly embarrassed. I watched the already spiritually induced crimson face of Mr. Sakhrie turning more crimson with each passing moment. He was a man not easily cowed down and would dare speak his mind to anyone, senior or junior. When Mr. Yaden’s verbal diarrhea concluded, Mr. Sakhrie stood up and in his gruff sore-throat kind of voice said, “ Sir, I did not find the need to add anything else over what the Under Secretary had written, so I only signed it in agreement to his observation. Since you want my views also endorsed, I will rewrite exactly what the Under Secretary has written and resubmit!” Saying this he made a beeline towards the opened file lying in front of Mr. Yaden, on his table. Mr. Yaden beat him to the draw and managed to hastily grab it first. We were then promptly dismissed. As we headed for our respective rooms I heard Mr. Sakhrie muttering “I really don’t see any need to be fighting over wet sugar with the Industry Department!” seething with anger. He also didn’t see the need that others had obviously seen.
Mr. Yaden completely removed my noting in the file, reprocessed it all on his own and finally retained the wet sugar with the department. At that senior level of bureaucracy it was comfortably possible to call an orange an apple and get away with it.
I landed up being that little pebble in the sole of everyone’s shoes that caused discomfort to the many wearers who stepped into the Supply Department. My 7th transfer order in five years+ service came two months later. I was being slated as SDO (Boarder) at Merapani, far from the madding crowd where I could do less damage. The 6 months tenure in this dreadful den of pilfered Supply Department was finally over.
Hello, Merapani city and Lotha brothers… here I come.
The writer is a retired IAS officer