ContentsDelhi - Learning the Fundamentals of Working at Headquarters...

Delhi – Learning the Fundamentals of Working at Headquarters – M.S Menon, New Delhi [Sankupurana – Memoirs of an Engineer]


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I could spend a week in Kerala before proceeding to Delhi to take up the new assignment. Meeting all my relatives took a toll of the available time, but I was happy that I could meet them, listen to their grievances about the indifferent younger generation and give those old people some company. I found that more than gifts and money, they needed someone to listen to their woes.

The Kerala Express took me to Delhi in the first week of April. The winter was just fading away and hence it was a comfortable day at Delhi. Prasad had arranged through his friend Chiranjeevi  Rao at Delhi to receive me at the station and to take me to the two bed room accommodation rented  out for me at Lajpatnagar, about  15 km. from the station. Most of the junior officers of WADA were put up in that area, about 6 km. from Ramakrishna Puram (R.K.Puram) where the WADA offices were situated. Also the rent for these flats was affordable to junior officers like us and hence the decision taken by Chiranjeevi to book my residence also in that area.

The WADA offices at R.K.Puram were spread over five buildings there. Half an hour bus journey took me there and I could locate the building housing the administration as it was very near the bus terminal and most of the office goers knew about it. Though the transfer order directed me to report to the ‘undersigned’,i.e .the Unit Chief (Human Resources) who signed the letter, Chiranjeevi told me that it would be a waste of time trying to meet  him, but instead I should go and meet the Section Officer in the Establishment Section and get further orders of posting.

I went to the concerned Section to report.  “We are busy at present to reorganise the Units so that the engineers are fully employed in carrying out the activities envisaged. Hence we are not posting you immediately to any specific Unit and it might take a couple of days more to decide on you.” The Officer told me.” You are therefore free to use the time now available to settle down yourself, such as getting a proper accommodation, getting your children’s admissions in the choice schools, ration card and gas connection etc. for which you may have to personally run about . Once you join any Unit it would be difficult to get time for these errands and hence my suggestion. Regarding your posting orders, you may contact me next week by which time, it should be possible for higher ups to decide about it.”

I went back to Chiranjeevi and reported about the developments. “As expected”, he reacted. “While issuing transfer orders to Delhi, they use such terms as if the entire WADA’s work would be upset if the individual does not report for duty within the prescribed time. And when you come hurriedly to join here, they continue to be busy with reorganisation, a never ending work. Anyway, this available time would help you to get acclimatised to Delhi way of life; meanwhile, I would introduce you to some of my friends working in various Units, so that they would be able to help you in case you are posted to any of their Units.”

After he took me to some of his friends, while on the way back to Chiranjeevi’s seat, I requested him to let me know where Kishanjee, one of Partha’s very close friend, could be contacted.

“In WADA, he is the only officer available in his seat throughout the office hours except during the lunch and tea breaks.” Chiranjeevi said.  “Even during these breaks, he takes a very minimum time in the canteen. That is one thing good about him.”As  I was free for the day, and for days to come, I thought that I should get acquainted with Kishanjee at the earliest opportunity to get some tips about the working of WADA at Delhi.

 “Partha had phoned me that you have been transferred and would be coming here shortly”, Kishanjee said. “ Welcome to the head quarters to enjoy a retired life after spending gruelling days in the field formations”.

Kishanjee, a lean personality of medium height sported a moustache which appeared shy of making its presence felt. He seemed to be a jovial person with positive vibrations and of a smiling disposition with a natural exuberance. When I approached him extending my hand, he did not take it. Instead, holding both arms together and saying ‘namaste’, he bowed his head. (Later on he told me that whenever he met a person for the first time, he would not shake hands with him, but only bowed before him. Only after getting acquainted fully with him he preferred to shake hands with that individual).

I told him about the brief encounter I had with the Establishment Section in the morning.

“Nothing surprising”, he said.”Good that you did not wait to meet the Unit Chief (HR). He would have made you sit in his Personal Assistant’s room all through the day and would have told you later in the evening to come next day to repeat the same exercise.”

After a pause, he continued “Now that you are free for the next few days, you are welcome to come and sit in my room till HR decides your posting and seating arrangement. But remember one thing; while in the field you had many subordinate staff to help for typing, despatching letters, etc., working as a junior officer in Delhi office, you would be on your own to do the various chores.”

“That Partha had already cautioned me”, I said.

“One another important advice I have to give you is that- more than knowing about the functions, job responsibilities etc. attached to your post here, you must make it a point to know the works and responsibilities etc. allotted to your colleagues.”

“Why?” I asked Him. “I need to know only about what I am supposed to do. My principle is not to interfere with other’s works”.

 “That is exactly the reason why I cautioned you.” Kishanjee explained.”Here many are interested in passing on their works to those who are willing to do but would take the credit for doing it.  Since your principle is not to get involved with others duties, you should know what they are supposed to do”.

“I am afraid that I am not able to understand you”, I said.

“Here there are many officers who have made a habit of shirking work. Their weak –kneed bosses, who dare not ask such juniors to sit and complete the work, would like to transfer complicated pending works to new comers who are not aware of the work distribution and who would always be willing to do additional duties. If you willingly accept the work, more pending works would come to you. The more the work is to be done in a short time, more the mistakes that would be committed in the work. So when your performance is to be evaluated at the time of promotion of your group of officers to the next level, you would be disqualified because of the mistakes committed, while the easy going chaps with no mistakes committed, get rewarded with promotion” .

“This is injustice”. I said. “Why can’t they assess people on the basis of individual performance?”

”In service, everybody’s promotion is linked to his performance in the work given to him”. Kishanjee explained.” Hence in offices, disposal of files, considered as well studied, is a measure of the performance of an individual. A case is considered as well studied, if the case file runs into volumes, moves up and down the hierarchy many times with queries, clarifications and the like. Here in the headquarters, one is not required to produce results as in the field. Here one is required to keep himself safe from a future enquiry and the best way to handle file referred to you is to subject it to an A/B/C technique.”

“Sorry, I am not able to follow you. Please explain.” I could not make out what these abbreviations meant .

“You were working in the field formations and were interested only in getting results. Hence I can well appreciate your ignorance on the subject.” Kishanjee said.”In the ABC type of approach generally adopted in the file pushing offices, the acronym ‘A’ stands for avoiding,  ‘B’ for bypassing and ‘C’ for confusing , a case or file referred to the individual officer. Hence if and when a file is referred to you for action, ‘Avoid’ it – ie; do not accept it as your work. But if the boss insists that you have to deal with it, then attempt the technique of ‘Bypassing’- i.e. send it to another Section for their expert advice, which may not come for ages. However, in situations where others also follow similar techniques and the file comes back to you stating that they do not deal with such cases, then you may adopt the third technique of ‘Confusing’ the case i.e. quoting from different rule books, manuals, guidelines, codes, precedents etc., confuse the whole issue and conclude that the matter should be taken up with the government for approval and then put up the case for the boss to decide. It would move up and would never come back to you. But for attempting this technique, you have to be familiar with all such rules, codes etc.”

I used to meet Kishanjee every day for spending some time with him since I had to await the posting orders from the administration. Partha was right about the vast knowledge he had about the system, as I could make out during discussions with him every day.

 I got the orders posting me to the Planning Unit of WADA after a fortnight. I went to Kishanjee to inform him about this. “This is a very good Unit dealing with the entire water resources of the country,” Kishanjee told me. “You can do a lot if you go through the available cases there, but I am sure your boss would not be able to guide you properly. He may allot you some silly works but remember, if you take up any work with your heart fully in it, you would be able to learn many things which would help you in future. Wish you best of luck. You are welcome to come to me at any time.”

The Planning Unit had more than 50 planners in the Unit and had hardly 30 schemes to attend to.  I was already cautioned by Kishanjee that the number of officers being more than the number of tables and chairs provided in the hall, a programme of musical chairs would always be in place there at any point of time and I should not be unduly perturbed by that situation.

I met the Unit Head, Hari Om, and handed over the copy of my posting order to him. He appeared to be a ‘happy go lucky man’. “Settle yourself first”, he told me when I asked him about the work being assigned to me. “Since you are from the field organisation, you would take some time to learn the work culture of this office, entirely a different one. Hence first you go through the reports recently prepared by this Unit, so as to get a feel of the work being done here.”

I remembered the advice given by Prasad at Eluru before my proceeding to Delhi on transfer. He had given me a detailed account of the works in this Unit.

“Read one report, continue with another- like that you may spend all your time there only reading the reports with nothing else to do!” he had told me then. Hence I was not shocked to hear the brief lecture of Hari Om on the important works being done there and how for want of adequate staff to work, the Unit was not able to bring out its best and at times refused work transferred from other Units.

“Hari Om was right when he said that he did not have staff to work”, Kishanjee told me justifying his statement. “The main problem is that he has more than the required staff, but many do not work and hence he does not have adequate working staff!”

For a couple of weeks I was busy studying the reports prepared by the Unit. One good thing I found about that office was that I did not have to send weekly or monthly progress reports at all. I also found that so long I stick to my chair, I would have a place to sit. During those days, I had hardly met the Boss as he never called me even once to ask about my progress. Even colleagues were rarely seen as most of them, I was told,  were busy in the library collecting information from national and international journals  and texts written by eminent authors on the subject. I was feeling a bit diffident as I did not know the names of the journals nor authors to be referred to with reference to any work. Consequently I was getting a feeling that I might not be able to cope up with the assignments when entrusted to me.

A month after my joining the Planning Unit, I got a call from Hari Om to urgently meet him in the afternoon. I thought that he might now ask me about the reports I studied and my comments on them.  Luckily, I had, as per field practice, kept a note of my daily activities during the period and my observations on the reports and hence was ready with the details.

“Administration wanted me to spare an experienced officer to deal with an urgent legal case in which our vehicle had knocked down a private security guard dead about a year back.” He told me without much preface. “Since you are from the field, I decided that you would be the right man to handle the case. Hence you may go and meet the HR Unit Chief immediately. You would be at his disposal till the case is sorted out. I have already told him that you would meet him now”.

“I do not have any experience in legal matters”, I told him. “Then how can I pursue the case?”

“You were in the field and had enough experience with issues coming up every day in the field”, he said. “That is why I told him that you are most suited for the work”

I met the HR Chief in the afternoon. He had kept the file ready with his notings to the Law Department for legal opinion.

“You have to take this file to the Legal Officer concerned and get his views in writing”, he told me handing over the file. “That office would guide us whether we have any case to file an appeal and if so what are the approved rates of fees to be paid to the advocate. By day after tomorrow we have to file the appeal, otherwise, we would have to pay Rs. One lakh to the deceased’s family.”

“You can read the details from the file”, he told me “but remember, the matter is urgent and I must get the feed back by tomorrow evening.”

The Personal Assistant (P.A) to the Chief took the file from me stating that he had to get the movement of the file noted in the despatch clerk’s register before delivering the file to me. It took him a lot of time to come back with the file and all the time I was sitting in the Chief’s room watching how busy he was moving the wheels of administration.

On his table, there were two trays, one marked ‘OUT ‘on his right side and another marked ‘IN’ on his left side. A liveried peon entered a couple of times carrying files and depositing them in the ‘IN’ tray and taking away files from the ‘OUT’ tray. The Chief took files, one by one, from the left tray, read, scribbled some observations and scrolled his signature before putting them in the right tray. This exercise continued without any break as long I was there, interrupted only by the entry and exit of the peon.

Around 5.30 P.M., the closing time of the office, the P.A. came with the file, complaining that the despatch clerk was missing from his seat and he had to wait for him all the while to make the necessary entries and hence the delay.

“Now there is no point in going to that office, because all concerned would have left the place.”, the Chief told me. “Tomorrow you go first in the morning to that office and get their comments, so that you can be here with the file by evening. The matter is very urgent and hence I want you to personally follow it up”.

I went to Kishanjee’s room to see if he was there so that I could get his advice in the matter. Luckily he was there studying some report.

“Please come in.” he said.“Surprised to see you with a file at this point of time while people would be waiting at the bus stop to catch their transport home.”

I briefed him about the instructions I got from the HR Chief and showed him the file.

“As guided by you initially at the time of my joining the Delhi office, I should have flatly told the Chief that it is not my job to follow up files with the various departments, but I felt that I should not make it  an issue in the first meeting itself with a senior officer like HR Chief.” I told Kishanjee apologetically.

“You did the right thing”, he said. “There are certain circumstances in which you should willingly offer your help when you find that the senior officer is in dire straits. Such an attitude would help you in future. Before you go to the Law office, go through the file and understand the case”.

“I have absolutely no idea as to what is to be done by me.” I said. “My Unit Head told me something about a car accident and since I had a jeep in the field, he told the HR Chief that I would be able to handle the case. Hence I am stuck with this file.”

“Nothing to worry. Read the file and you would get the ideas for pursuing the case with the law office”, Kishanjee said. “I think that this is an old case in which your Planning Unit’s vehicle hit and killed a security guard. The Motor Accident Claims Tribunal (MACT) had given the award about 3 months back with the stipulation that appeal if any, should be filed within the prescribed time limit of 3 months.”

“That means that the HR Unit was sleeping all these days and woke up suddenly now, since tomorrow is the last day for filing the appeal?” I said understanding the urgency of the situation. “They would have had enough time if they had contacted the Law Department, say, a month back, instead of making it as a crisis now.”

“This is how the administration works”, Kishanjee chuckled. “You will learn more about it when you meet the law officers tomorrow. Please let me know about your experience whenever you are free from the assignment.”

The Law Department was located about 5 kms. away from R.K.Puram. So I started early to reach that office by 9.30 A.M. so as to get a full day for getting the work completed.

The Reception Officer took down my particulars in a register and issued me an entry pass directing me to meet the Assistant Legal Officer (ALO) in room no. 234. I rushed to the room in the second floor to meet the officer.

“You go to the concerned Section in room no. 432 and they would guide you how to go about it. They have to record their views in the file”, he advised me.

I went to the room in the 4th floor to meet the concerned Section Officer (S.O.). There were three officials sitting and chatting on the likely increase in dearness allowance expected to be announced by the government. They told me that the S.O. would be reaching shortly and directed me to a vacant chair nearby to have my seat. By 10.30, the S.O. came in with a haggard look as if he had just come out of a battle zone.

“To get into a bus now has become a really hard task,” he said wiping his sweat on the face.” In my third attempt, I could squeeze in, otherwise I would have missed that bus also.”

He took his seat and looked at me in askance. I gave him the file and related to him the discussions I had with the ALO in the morning. The S.O. took  an hour  to read the entire file.

“The ALO does not know the procedure followed here since he is new to this office.” He said looking for concurrence from his staff members. “This case deals with two issues-first to advise whether you could go for appeal;   second- if, yes, the amount of fees to be paid to the advocate to file the appeal”.

“That is right.” I said. “Since we have to file the appeal by tomorrow, I would like to have your views on the file.” “For that you have to go to the Legal Section in the third floor.” The S.O. said. “Here in this office, we deal with only matters pertaining to advocates appointments, their fees, etc.”

“If that be so, to save time, you could advise on the second issue of the approved rates of advocates to be appointed for filing the appeal.” I requested him.

“Sorry, unless there is a case for appeal, why should we study the case and indicate the fees to be paid?” The S.O. pointed out. “We do not believe in tying the cart before the horse.”

“My request is because lunch time is nearing and there is not much time left for completing the formalities involved.” I pleaded.

“I do not think that you should go for appeal”, he told me. “Since your vehicle killed a poorly paid security guard, a rich office like WADA should certainly pay the amount to the hapless family without any hesitation. But do’nt quote me. I have only given my personal views, for our department’s views you have to go to the concerned  Section in the third floor.”

There was no use of arguing with him, I felt, since his staff was also nodding their agreement. I proceeded down with the file. The S.O. in the Legal Section appeared an easy going chap, enjoying his ‘paan’. He studied my file leisurely and marked it to his Assistant to record his views.

“Being an urgent issue, we would try to process it fast”, he assured me.

“Shall I contact you in the evening?” I asked him pointing out  that the appeal would have to be filed latest by next day and hence there was not much time left.

“To day evening”?  he stared at me as if I was asking for the moon.

“The earliest  you can expect is after 10 days since the file has to move to A.L.O., L.O., and may be to the Legal Advisor also who is presently on leave and expected by next week end.”

“The ALO had assured me that he would clear the file fast and hence my request”, I told him.

“We would put up the case today itself”, the Assistant promised me. “You may contact him tomorrow morning and follow it up further.”

It was evening tea time and other staffs were prodding him to join them for tea.

 I went to ALO to report the progress.

“Saheb has gone for a meeting”, the peon told me. “If the meeting is over early, he might come back otherwise, he would be available only tomorrow morning.”

Since my waiting there would not have had any fruitful outcome, I went back to my office and reported the progress to the HR Chief.“We would be in a soup if we do not file the appeal by tomorrow.” He told me. “Go first to that office tomorrow and let me know the position.”

Since I knew that Kishanjee would be available in his seat, I went to tell him about all that happened during the day.

“You have now come across people who know what others are supposed to do”, he said laughing. “You have also noticed their attitude that work should be done only if needed. If the Legal Section says that there is no case, why should the Judicial Section break their head to decide on the fees?”

“I am afraid that if the Legal Section finds that there is a case for appeal, the approval for such a decision could be given only by a senior officer like the Advisor. That would easily take 10 days as told by the Assistant. Thereafter the Judicial Section also would take at least another week to give approval for the fees to be paid to the advocate. Then only we would be able to file the appeal.”I showed my helplessness in completing the job entrusted to me.

“HR boss has assigned you this work, so it does not matter when the ultimate decision is taken.” Kishanjee said. “You are only to follow up the file. Since you are not authorised to write on the file at this stage, do the job as directed and enjoy the way bureaucracy is working.” I heaved a sigh of relief for being able to understand the extent of my involvement in the work. If I were to do a job in the field, I could have moved men and machinery to accomplish the work. But here to move a file from one office to another and to get a decision on that file is a Herculean task.


A chapter from [Sankupurana – Memoirs of an Engineer]

Editorial Team of Indian Ruminations.


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