First Movement Orders- Goodbye to Gopalapuram – [Sankupurana – Memoirs of an Engineer] M.S Menon, New Delhi

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Field investigations for a dam include many components- topographical surveys to prepare the contour plan i.e , the layout of the dam site area and its levels with reference to the mean sea level; sub surface / geological investigations for finding out the rock and its levels below the ground; material surveys to assess the quality and quantity of the materials used in construction such as  rock, sand, clay etc ; hydrological observations to collect the in-situ data  about the river flows including sediment flows at frequent intervals daily and field observations on rainfall, evaporation etc. Apart from these, the field staff has also to collect data of villages likely to be affected by the project including the population, crops cultivated, live stock and other important information about buildings and other structures, roads, railways and other facilities existing in the project area. A lot of information has also to be collected from local offices of revenue, agriculture, environment and forests, PWD, and other concerned offices.

Progress on surveys and other field investigations could be monitored and controlled as these works are quantifiable. However, monitoring the progress in collection of data from various government sources is a tedious one as it involves the cooperation of the concerned officials. They do not like to be pressurised to do a job unless the direction came from the top. Hence I had to depute a technical officer from my office who knew the local language and had pleasing manners to deal with the generally disgruntled lower level functionaries maintaining the relevant records.  My choice fell on Venkat. I directed him to form his own group to do the work.

Partha had told me at Kalluru that many of the circulars/ letters issued by the head quarters at Delhi were not to be taken seriously as they were issued by that office in a routine manner. I did not fully believe him then, but had the experience of it when I received a circular from Delhi forwarded duly by the regional office for my compliance. The letter referred to the directions of the Hon’ble Minister about the availability of the head of the geological institution who had retired then. He had met the Minister offering his services to WADA for all water related projects and the Minister felt that his vast experience in the field should be utilised in project investigations. Enclosing a copy of his biodata, the concerned administrative officer from head quarters had asked the regional offices to get the views from their sub- offices about the suitability of appointing the retired officer for the work.  Instead of taking a decision at Delhi, the administration, in a routine manner, wanted the juniors in the field offices to decide about the usefulness of this high ranking officer!  I showed the circular to Venkat pointing out the callous way the administration dealt with the case.

“Please mark it to me for giving my views”, Venkat said with a wicked smile. “I would send it to my drill khalasi to report whether he would be able to use the services of this gentleman”.

After a pause, Venkat continued with his comments as to how he expected his khalasi would respond.

“My khalasi would certainly report that such people would be of no use to him. He wanted helpers who would be able to carry the drill machinery, etc.  at the site and this officer would not be in a position to do so.”

I laughed at the joke.

“Then we can send a report to Delhi that  after reviewing his biodata and taking into account  the requirements of work, the candidate  does not appear to have the requisite experience and hence he could be asked to apply after he gets adequate experience so that we could consider his application at that point of time.” I said.

I narrated the incident to Partha when he came to my office to collect some spare survey equipments next week.

“Administration works always like that”, he told me. “There are many such instances when they use their in-born wisdom to do things without bothering about the consequences. I had a funny experience some time back when the Delhi office, in their enthusiasm to train officers in various fields, as directed by the management, nominated an officer, Himanshu, who was at the verge of retirement, to my office.

‘“Why did you opt for training at this age?” I asked him when he reported to me at Tiruvuru. “You should have better finalised your pension papers instead of trying to learn field surveys and investigations at this age.”

‘“I never opted for this training.”Himanshu said. “It appears that according to directives issued by higher authorities, all officers should have field experience before they are kept at the head quarters.  As I did not have any field experience all these years, the administration, not to be blamed for their failure, decided to give me the chance in the field and hence sent me here since you had a vacancy. If my bio data does not show the  field experience, I have been warned, that I may not be even eligible for pension benefits. After all, administration has to follow rules.”

“Himanshu could not do much in the field since he had all the age related problems”, Partha continued.” Added to it was the problem of communication since he did not know Telugu to converse with the workers. “

“You could have sent him back to Delhi reporting about his problems” I told him

“I could have done that”, Partha said. “But that would have given him a bad chit affecting his case for pension”

I had my doubts. “He would have already earned his pension serving the organisation all these years. How could then any one stop his rightful pension and that too when he has less than 2 years for superannuation?”

Partha said. “Rules are funny. When one joins the organisation, he is appointed on a temporary basis. Unless he is made permanent, he is not eligible for pension but if he dies during his temporary service, his wife would be eligible for pension called the family pension! Hence Himanshu wants to die before retirement so that at least his wife would get some pension”.

“Though Himanshu  was not good either in the field work or in our office work, I gave him a good report at the end of the year to enable him to become permanent and get his pension.” Partha added.

“But you are encouraging inefficiency by giving a good report to an otherwise useless chap,” I accused him.

“I agree with you, “Partha said smiling. “But remember one thing that the organisation is to be blamed for creating this situation. They could have posted him to the field years ago when he had the energy to work in such circumstances. Now he has no energy and they want him to complete a formality. They could have waived off this condition in his case and allowed him to retire peacefully.”

Partha narrated many such instances where the administration failed in the past.

“Don’t go strictly by rules while dealing with the personal cases of individuals,“ Partha advised me the next morning while returning to Tiruvuru. “Every time when you deal with personal cases, do not cursorily treat them as files containing a bunch of papers, but as individuals craving for administrative help and justice. When staff members approach you with grievances, always give them a sympathetic hearing .  If you maintain such an attitude, you are then sure to succeed.”

I got the orders to close the office at Gopalapuram and move to Venkatapuram sometime in May that year. We had completed the field investigations for the Polavaram project and had submitted our report along with the data collected including survey maps to our regional office at Vijayawada by that time.

“Movement to Venkatapuram is easy during monsoons since the Godavari river levels would rise by then permitting launches to ply”, the new Block Development officer (BDO), Ram Babu informed me. He had spent 3 years at Venkatapuram before getting his transfer to Gopalapuram, his choice posting nearer to his native place, Kovvur.

“Venkatapuram is approachable by road only during non-monsoon months,” Ram Babu further clarified. “There are few rivulets crossing the Bhadrachalam-Venkatapuram road and there are no bridges across them to facilitate road traffic during rainy season and these rivers flow full then. Hence the dependable transport is the launch service regularly plying between Bhadrachalam and Venkatapuram. It leaves at 6 A.M. every day, from these terminals to reach the destination by 6 P.M. taking full 12 hours to complete the journey one way.”

“What about the movements during non-monsoon months?” I asked him.

“From October till June, there is a private bus service operating regularly from Bhadrachalam to Venkatapuram.” Ram Babu said. “The bus leaves Bhadrachalam at 6 A.M. and takes 12 hours to reach Venkatapuram and vice versa.”

“12 Hours to cover this stretch?” I asked doubting the arithmetic of it.

“Not only the bus has to negotiate the 3 nalas by taking detours at these places, the driver and conductor would also like to take a 3 hour lunch break en-route.” Ram Babu clarified.

“A 3 hour lunch break? Do they take a nap after lunch and all the while, would the passengers keep quiet?” I asked surprised.

“These people want the passengers to enjoy the film songs relayed by Radio Ceylon and Vividh Bharathi  during  this period as they are addicted to these songs.” The BDO said. “Since there is no electricity in that village, the battery from the bus would be used to run the battery operated radio available in the hotel.”

Ram Babu also told me that Venkatapuram is one of the electrified towns in that area, but the supply would be available only from 6 to 10 P.M. with lot of fluctuations in the supply voltage. It has a police station, a public health centre and can boast of having a cinema hall showing films during non-monsoon period. It has also the offices of BDO, Forest Department and PWD. There is a small shop selling provisions but there are no stationery, cloth and vegetable shops and these are to be brought from Bhadrachalam.

“Of course, it is a paradise for those who prefer chicken, as the tribals have plenty to sell. The river is there to cater to your needs for  fish. Even otherwise, in the weekly bazaars, you can get dried fish if you can stand the smell.” The BDO summed up his views on the place.

“What about the accommodation for office and staff”? I asked him.

“Luckily there are few vacant government buildings and you could get priority in allotment as you are from a central organisation working on a project to benefit the state. But due to problems of distances and lack of proper communication facilities, if you are in a hurry, I would suggest you to send the letter now itself to the Chief of PWD through some of your officers, seeking urgent allocation of the buildings needed by you. Even news papers reach here a couple of days later due to delays,   as they depend on the road or launch service starting from small towns like Bhadrachalam or Polavaram.”

Hearing about the condition of life at Venkatapuram, I felt that the transfer from Gopalapuram village to Venkatapuram town is akin to moving from frying pan  to fire. All my enthusiasm to shift to that place was lost hearing the situation there.

“Do not lose heart,” the BDO consoled me. “All of you being bachelors, you would be able to adjust to that life without any difficulty.”

As advised by Ram Babu, I sent one of the junior technical officers (JTO) to the PWD Chief Engineer’s office with the documents requesting for allocation  of 5 buildings for our office and residential purposes. On getting the allotment, I sent Venkat with some staff to Venkatapuram as an advance party to take over the buildings and get them ready for occupation by the time our office articles reached there.

My local adviser, Venkateswarlu, the postman, had heard from our office people about the shifting of the office to Venkatapuram . He took a day off from his busy schedule to bid good bye to me and other colleagues before our truck left the place with the office items.“I do not know when we would be meeting again”, he told me in an emotionally choked voice. “Being in the central service, you may not get again posted to this village, I am sure. I will be here till retirement and hence if you happen to come to this part at any time, please let me know. I would certainly come and meet you. I wish you all the best”.

I was touched by his words which brought tears in me. “I cherished your company and am thankful to you for all the help and guidance you gave me all these days,” I said. “When I come to this district at any time in future, I would certainly make it a point to meet you. Till then, good bye.”

A chapter from [Sankupurana – Memoirs of an Engineer]

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