During my service life spanning more than 34 years in State Bank of India so far, there have been a large number of memorable incidents and as such, I can recall them vividly. Incidentally, if I narrate all of them, a big book will emerge. Here, I think, it will be worthwhile to narrate a story relates to shifting of premises of a Branch called Choube, opened on 25.03.1985. Are you wondering about the name of the Branch? I also wondered. I knew that Chaubey is one of the surnames of the Brahmins in Bihar which happens to be the short form of ‘Chaturvedi’. The Branch was located in Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand (curved out of Bihar). It was under Region –IV of Ranchi Module when I took over the charge of the region in the month of May 2002. As a first step, my immediate target was to visit all 48 branches, the region had. At the material time, the Regional Managers were permitted to hire cars for visiting their area of operation. If I am remembering correctly, it took little over three months to complete the branch visits – the nearest branch in the region was at a distance of 50 km and farthest was at 185 km from the Head Quarters i.e., Ranchi. Choube was the last in the series, mainly due to its location.
It was gathered that the connecting road was in a deplorable condition and it was wiser to go by train from Jhumri Telaiya (Radio Ceylon fame). As suggested by the officiating Branch Manager (Permanent BM had to be relieved due to administrative exigencies and immediate posting of a BM was not possible due to acute shortage of officers), I reached JhumriTelaiya (150 km) the previous night (It was Sunday) as the train was at 6.45 a.m. There are only two pairs of train which used to stop at Choube; one in the morning and another in the evening. As per programme, I accompanied by the officiating BM started in the morning. As usual, the train was late by 30 minutes but we reached the destination (a halt station) around 8.15 a.m. The Branch was located at a distance of 2 km by village road and little over a kilometre through fields. Being a man from village, I preferred the latter. As we reached the Branch premises, the canteen boy (One person who is the backbone of such small branches) who was waiting outside, opened the gate after taking keys from the BM. It was complete dark. I was expecting the generator to start but instead two kerosene lamps were brought and kept on the table. On enquiry, it was revealed that the gen-set was withdrawn by the owner as his demand for increase in rent was not met. BM confirmed that the issue was raised to Zonal Office long back. I was very much upset as well as surprised to know that the Branch was without gen-set for the last few months. It needs little mention that the village was not fortunate enough to have electricity connection. I became a worried person as the pressure to computerise the Branches was mounting and this Branch was totally unfit from all sides. Anyway, I finished my work of Branch visit quickly and started exploring ways to arrange for gen-set and also, more importantly, the change of premises. In that process, I along with the Branch staff visited a few places and met a few persons. Luckily enough, one person, teacher by profession, agreed to provide a gen-set in a week’s time at a reasonable rate. Meanwhile, the Branch Manager was asked to purchase two gas lamps to tide over the situation. Can you imagine that being located in such a remote village, it was a Sunday open Branch.
Before leaving the place, I decided:
- to immediately convert it into a Branch with normal working days.
- to shift the premises of the Branch at the earliest.
I could not stop wondering why the Branch was opened (on 25th March, 1985) in such a bad premises and more so, why the successive Regional Managers did not make any effort to change the premises for the last 17 years.
Coming back to Ranchi, while the process for shifting of the premises started at the right earnest, the Branch started working with normal working days in a month’s time. It took two more months to select the prospective landlord and the premises (Only vacant space but with most suitable location). As expected, the village did not have any readymade building to house the Branch. It took another month and a half to start the construction. During my next visit to the branch, I saw the building coming up albeit slowly because of the logistic problems. Incidentally, the person happened to be the same teacher who volunteered to provide the gen-set even without any income. He also provided one more gen-set at the same rate when the branch was computerised though the rate went up substantially in the interim.
Almost after six months, when the building became ready for possession, the real story started. The village mukhiya (Chief of the village) who appeared to be the friend of the teacher, came to meet me at Ranchi. He was accompanied by two other persons. He said, “ Shakha ke bartaman makan malik muslim hain. Lekin shakha jahan pe ja raha hai o makan malik hindu hai. Main to thare mukhia aur main aisa hone nahin de sakta kuinki isse sampradaik tanaw ho sakta hai.” (The landlord of the existing premises is a Muslim and that of the new premises is a Hindu and he, being the mukhiya, cannot allow it to happen as the same will lead to some communal disturbances.) I told him, “Bank opens a branch to serve the community and takes care of its customers. It is immaterial for the Bank who provides the premises. You are seeing the condition of the existing premises and how the customers are suffering; there is no space to sit, no natural light, no urinal, etc. You tell me whether it is proper to delay the shifting?” After telling this, I put a request to him to help shift the premises citing difficulties being faced by both the staff members and customers. I was more worried as we would be forced to pay rent for both the premises after taking over the possession of the new premises. (Bank signed the agreement in the normal course and obviously, without anticipating any such problems.)
It appeared to me that he was convinced and would help us for immediate shifting. I, however, informed this to the prospective landlord and advised him to tackle the mukhiya so that the task is accomplished without delay. Meanwhile, without wasting time, both wooden and electrical works were started in full swing to target shifting in a month’s time. Days were passing at a fast pace with a large number of ever changing priorities (As happens to a Regional Manager) and shifting of premises of Choube Branch was off the radar. But it did not last long and I was forced to bring the issue on the front burner with sudden re-appearance of the mukhiya on the scene. This time, he was accompanied by two persons. On seeing them, I was both annoyed and upset but I remained cool. I asked for introduction of both the accompanying persons. It transpired that they were staying at Ranchi. I got the clue and asked them, “Have you ever been to Choube?” Pat came the reply, “No”. At this, I told the mukhiya, “I do not want to talk to them on this issue as they don’t know anything about the village”. They were told politely but firmly to sit outside. Mukhiya started repeating the same story. I intervened and told him, “Please do not try to disturb Bank’s work i.e., Public work. I require your co-operation for this. However, if anybody tries to put any hindrance, we will seek help from the administration”. He wanted to say something more but he was not allowed to. I requested him to meet the Branch Manager and extend co-operation. He left my office seemingly dissatisfied.
I called the officer concerned who was monitoring the works at the new premises and told him to fast track the work so that the shifting can be completed within a fortnight as I was apprehensive of some more political interference before shifting. Unfortunately enough, my apprehension came true. One morning as I was reaching office, I got a call on my mobile. The call was from Delhi. Person at the other end started, “ Kya aap RM saab bol rahen hain. Main Hazaribagh ka Sansad bol raha huin. Dekhiye aap jo Choube me kar rahe hain oh achchha nahin hai. Isse sampradaic tanaw paida ho sakta hai. Aap Shakha ka stanarantaran rok digiye.” (Am I talking to the Regional Manager? I am the M.P. of Hazaribagh. You see, what you are doing at Choube, is not proper. This may cause communal tension. You stop shifting of the Branch.)
Though I was extremely annoyed, I maintained my cool and told him politely, “You are an M.P., a public representative and what we are going to do, is for the well-being of the public at large. We expect your co-operation in this regard.” At this, he bluntly told me, “Please do not shift the Branch now and if you do so, you will be responsible for any consequences.” Without responding to this, I disconnected the line and decided to shift the premises on the coming Sunday. Everything was planned accordingly and Branch Manager was briefed in details. It would be in order to mention here that there was no telephone connection in most of the branches in the region. However, keeping in view of the fact that all the branches were getting computerised, we provided a mobile connection to all those branches as it was found that connectivity could be established from a particular location near the Branch.
The ‘D’ – day came. The Branch Manager engaged a few labourers and hired a hand cart for this purpose. The shifting started in the morning and was going on. At around 1.30 p.m. when I was about to take lunch, I got a call from the Branch Manager. He told me, “while half of the goods have been shifted, one brother and one son of the landlord have put locks in the collapsible gate and despite requests, they are not allowing us to complete the work.” It was gathered that the landlord was in Delhi and could not be contacted. I thought for a while and asked the BM to call me after half an hour as he could only contact someone and not vice versa because of connectivity issue.
He called me at 2.30 p.m. and I told him, “I am sorry but we need to find some way. Please listen to me carefully and act accordingly. You please go to the residence of the landlord’s brother and ask for his father’s name. You also tell him that RM has sent an official to Barkattha Police Station to lodge an FIR against you and your nephew for obstructing Bank’s (i.e., Public) work and we require your father’s name for that purpose.” BM was also told to inform him about a recent incident where a person in a nearby village had to pay a fine of Rs. 5000/- for obstructing Banking activity as per the direction of the Hon’ble court. After some time, I was informed by the BM that he could not get the information and as such, he came back to the new premises.
This, however, yielded the desired result, the BM told me. Within 10 minutes, both the persons came rushing and told the BM, “We have already unlocked the gate and you please shift the remaining things. We will also extend help and co-operation in the work. Please do not lodge the FIR.”
The BM then got the earlier premises vacated within a few hours and confirmed me. It was later revealed that the mukhia instigated the previous land lord to go to Delhi and meet the M.P.
The Branch has been functioning in the new spacious premises for the last 14 years but when I think of the tricks, we had to play for a noble cause, it gives me pain.