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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pension Pastime

"In taxing statute one has to look at what is clearly said. There is no room for any intendement. There is no equity about a tax. There is no presumption as to a tax. Nothing is to be read in, nothing is to be implied. One can look fairly at the language used." Justice Rowlatt.

That is precisely what one should not do with any State bank of India  Staff circular. One can look fairly at the language used only at one's peril. I suppose, nobody reads the circulars for its literary merit or to make oneself conversant with the correct and idiomatic use of the English language. Certainly, not after the Scots and Irish left and the Iyers and Iyangaars and Bhadralog took over drafting of the circulars. Certainly not after these preferred children of Macaulay were replaced by the cattle from the gangetic plains and the 'once born' hordes from the South. The circulars became  mere carriers of information and misinformation written in admirable gobbledygook. English language in the Bank as a whole became colourless, and tasteless and grammarless and style-less. An occasional comment like " This file is maintained as shabbily as the undergarments of a Roman Catholic woman".enlivened things a bit  once in a while, but those were rare exceptions. ( I cannnot testify to the factual correctness of the sweeping statement quoted, but doubtless SBI then had on it's ranks quite a few who could!)

The trigger for this rambling thoughts  was the far more rambling speeches by some of   the former livestock of SBI  in the 10th.Annual Conference of the Pensioners association at Pearl Regency, Trissur. The script and the actors  couldn't have been truer to form and  tradition. The welcome speech was  by a serving official of the Bank who was apparently not  briefed properly. He was half way through his welcome address when the 'old maidens' selected  for presenting  bouquets to the dignitaries were in place. One of them  rightly identified the General Secretary of the Staff Union as the most important guest and was presenting the bouquet to him when she was  virtually pushed forward and  made to give it to  the circle Chief General Manager to the accompaniment of insipid hand clapping. The remaining bouquets were also disposed of somehow and the speeches on predicable lines completed. CGM extolling the Bank for it's enlightened HR policy; the General Secretaries appreciating the helpful attitude of the Circle authorities; the Officers association representative assuring the Federation's fraternal  support; and the General Secretary of the Union going hammer and tongs against the Bank dripping militancy from every pore of his body.

The charade of the day however is not the main subject of this posting.  I suppose there is a dominant and recurring theme in every field of human endeavour. In staff matters in the Bank , it used to be a complicated calculation chart showing " Had I continued as a Head clerk...." which invariably  came in the wake of every salary revision/fixation. After considerable research and  effort  some guy will come up with two tabular charts, one showing the paid amount and the other the payable amount, claiming  that he would have been benefited  by an amount of, say,  Rs.113.25 had he continued as a head clerk. I dare say the benefit to the Bank in most cases would have been far more tangible if he was not promoted at all.  

 Similarly, there is a recurring theme in every pensioners meet. It is the pension being paid to pensioners' covered by the VI th bipartite settlement. It seems that for  pension calculations, the revised salary as per the relevant bipartite settlement was taken into account in all cases except in the case of the pensioners covered by  the sixth one. Like the 'manvatharams'   in the Hindu calender, period in SBI is reckoned by bipartite settlements. Currently it is the age of the IX th.bipartite manu which started on 1st November 2007. The age of each of the bipartite Manu is four years, whereafter the reign of a new bipartite Manu begins. The only hitch is that the administrative, and more importantly the pecuniary benefits, which each bipartite Manu ushers in take a couple of years to get into effect. The speed of implementation of these reforms is directly proportional to the nuisance value the beneficiaries have. Thus, those still in service get it faster compared to pensioners who register a far lower reading on the nuisance index scale. The age of the current bipartite manu  will end in October 2011 and the pensioner prajas of this manu are hoping to get the benefits before that. But no such luck for the prajas of the VI th. manu

The Government, Management, Association/Unions all know when a settlement is going to end. But by design they all conspire to ensure that a new settlement is not in place sufficiently before. The discussions start after the expiry of the earlier settlement. A series  of discussions and a couple of token strikes later an ambiguously worded settlement is reached leaving enough opportunities for the union leaders to agitate on 'anomalies' whenever they feel like. In the process 'staff experts' get entrenched in administrative offices colluding with associations/unions and abetting irrational Management whims and prejudices. Confidential reports are rewritten/ replaced, appraisal marks juggled with, postings manipulated and what not.

The reign of the VI th.manu was especially turbulent with the Bank embarking on a rationalisation of staff. Like in all such cases, rationalisation meant downsizing and attractive VRS schemes were offered to induce people to go. And quite a few left, mostly good staff. That was when the Government realised that the VRS scheme offered had a major flaw and the retirees benefited more than what was intended.  The Govt. apparently  decided to withhold  extending the benefits of the bipartite settlement to all who retired during that period. And ever since this recurring theme as an agenda item in  all Pensioners' meets. The office bearers of the Pensioners'.association would have been happy with such a convenient agenda item but for the fact that they are also aggrieved parties.

Incidentally, one other dominant and recurring theme which had helped me considerably during my tenure as Development Manager (C&I) was the Jayankondan power project.. It was a time when there was hardly any demand for corporate advances.  I was having a tough time explaining away the negative variance in advances in performance review meetings. It was then that I stumbled upon  'Jayankondan' thermal power project which was to come up somewhere near Trichy. I found out that my predecessor had managed to get away for over twenty four months by stating that the project take off was imminent and once that happens all growth targets would be met. Jayankondan helped me also to survive in the post for over twenty months.

I don't know whether the project was ever implemented.

Note: That brings me to an incident which illustrates clearly  what Rowlatt must have meant. There were allegations of irregularities in extensive DIR lending in a branch near Varanasi. The Agent was changed and an old bandicoot of pre- independence vintage posted there with instructions to ' personally verify all the loans and submit a report, pointing out inter alia whether there is any malafide in the lending". The old war horse had no intention of submitting any report and filed away the letter. Soon he started getting reminder letters and telegrams. So he decided to act and shot off a reply.
" With reference to your letter No.. dated... I have verified all the DIR lending and have to confirm that the question of inter alia does not arise"
The file was closed without any further correspondence..


  1. The two idioms that inter alia caught my fancy from the circular instructions were ‘mutatis mutandis’ and ‘ipso facto’. No longer in fashion I think. So also the word ‘award’ which used to tagged on to one Sastri! And, in the Bank you always begged to advise.

    I, being a veteran pensioner, have noticed a rare consistency in all the deliberations year after year; not single word changed or an inch moved. I belong to a still more ancient ‘manvantharam’ and have left it to the Gods or my wife’s luck.

    Rectification of one anomaly which breeds a few more used to be the favorite pastime, perhaps the raison detre, of the staff experts.

  2. This anomaly relating to the VI was in fact the result of the very same trade unions, in their self-interest, protecting the interest of serving livestock at the expense of the dry(retired).
    I still admire some of the old usages like'not withstanding', 'your efforts in this regard will be watched with keen interest'(by whom?)etc.
    Those were the days of reporting and getting confirmation. I remember seeing a report, which read something like this, at Bangalore R.O. in the early 70s.The B,M. wrote,'at 8-30 tonight a king cobra visited me at my office. Under instruction from the undersigned the branch watchman killed it. Please confirm my action'.
    There was also a helpless BM from a remote branch of Karnataka recommending transfer of an incorrigible employee to Regional Office.It ended like this.'I recommend that he be transferred to R.O. where he will be one among many like him.'

  3. There are so many. Towards the fag end of my service, I felt I would not be able to write a paragraph in English if I were prevented from using the phrase 'as you are aware'.
    Then there was the legend of a Branch manager of PGT branch who wrote a persuasive letter to the wife of a senior IAS officer who failed to repay a clean OD.The letter ended in a matter of fact manner. " If you do not repay, I shall kill you on the streets of Delhi, in broad daylight, with my bare hands". I need not add, the OD was promptly repaid.

  4. Ram Mohan to raju

    Good show ! U were simply marvellous in ur latest on SBI & ITS
    PENSIONERS. T he coating of sarcasm was delicious. Pl. keep it up.