August 01, 2010

Suspension Order

I was posted as Assistant Station Master in the 1960s to Butibori station on the Nagpur-Wardha main line, where I found the operating work load was very heavy. A new branch line had been laid from Butibori to Umrer colliery to bring in coal. At that time Butibori was not an industrial area. The station was a small one, with only one platform and two loops, and a few sidings. A steam engine stationed in Butibori carried empty wagons to the colliery and returned with wagons loaded with coal. We had to inform the Section Controller in Nagpur the number of wagons to be dispatched. He would then send an engine from the Central Railway locoshed in Ajni with driver plus guard, and this would come and carry the coal train to Nasik and areas in Gujarat.
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I had even worked earlier as a Relieving ASM in Bombay VT station. As the name indicates, a Relieving ASM acts as a standby to take over charge when a regular station master can’t report for work on account of illness and other circumstances. The job of a Relieving ASM can be a dreadful one: there’s no telling when you will be sent off to a distant, unheard of place. Station masters in those days were taught Morse code as part of their training in the Zonal Training School. I took my training in Bhusaval, and the training in Morse didn’t go waste as I would be sometimes posted to tiny far flung places on lines where the job of getting line-clear for an approaching train was accomplished telegraphically.
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The operating workload in Butibori was, as I said, quite heavy. The colliery line was newly opened and especially during the monsoon the signals and points were inoperative most of the time. Coal trains coming from Umrer halted at the outermost signal which was not working, and a letter of authority would have to be prepared and sent to the driver allowing him to draw into the station. At other times, the points would give trouble. We were only two ASMs working under a Station Master, and the result was that we were hardly left with any time to do the commercial side of our work. In addition to ‘operating’ work, station masters have to prepare commercial returns, do establishment work and other related jobs, but the conditions at the station meant that it was well nigh impossible to do these jobs satisfactorily. The Divisional Commercial Manager in the Nagpur office was a man called Borge (name changed). Borge did not seem to understand the gravity of the situation, and kept asking us to carry on to the best of our ability. Finally, we gave it in writing that with the heavy operating workload in Butibori, we were in no position to tackle commercial work.
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Borge was enraged and called us over to Nagpur. We stood in front of the Divisional Railway Manager and were made to explain our position. Borge too was present at this meeting, and he made it into a prestige issue. It looks as if he had already poisoned the boss against us during our absence, for the DRM seemed to be in no mood to listen to our grievances. In the end all three of us were suspended from work.
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Now what were we to do? Suspension is bad enough, but during this period, we had to travel daily on our own expense from Butibori to Nagpur to report at the Divisional Commercial Manager’s office, and this carried on for nearly a month.
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While all this was going on, a Stationmaster had been posted to Butibori, and with the limited staff there, he began to find things getting out of hand. There was no relief for the poor man, so finally the Divisional Operating Superintendent at Nagpur decided to take us back. The charge-sheet against us was withdrawn and we were sent back to Butibori to join work. Within a few months time, all three of us were transferred; I was sent to Barsali, a tiny station, the others found themselves shunted off to similar places like Majri, etc. It was all so terrible. We had suffered for no fault of ours.
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Back in Nagpur, the incident created ripples in the railway office, and a Personnel Inspector was sent to Butibori to study the work density. He found the situation exactly as we had reported. Butibori seemed to offer challenging problems such as were not found elsewhere, and on the Inspector’s recommendation, a Commercial Clerk was finally posted, leaving the station staff free to do their regular work.
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By then, we had already paid a heavy price. For nearly 30 days during suspension we had spent money traveling from Butibori to Nagpur and back. Our salary had been withheld, and now we all found ourselves transferred to tiny far off places. It was sheer mental torture, and in the process our families too had suffered. Nothing of all this would have happened if DCM Borge had shown some understanding in the first instance.
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We decided we would make the authorities pay for this. We put up the matter through the Railway Workers Union telling the whole story, and demanded full payment of salary as well as traveling expenses. Our complaint evoked a favourable response. Borge had been transferred to Bombay in the meantime, and the DRM’s Office found we had a perfectly valid reason to complain, and passed an order asking Borge to make full payment of salary plus travelling charges, all from his own pocket. We had won the case at last !
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I can’t help feeling sorry for Borge, he must have shivered in his pants on being served the order. Then one day, a Commercial Inspector came up to me and began speaking about the case. He advised me saying it would not be wise to claim the money from Borge, seeing that he was a senior official who might be transferred back to Nagpur some day, and this could mean trouble for me. Whether this was a threat issuing from Borge, or a genuine piece of advice, I can’t say.
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A few months later Borge was in Nagpur and sent unofficial word to us saying he would like to see us. He was here on a commercial inspection and we were to meet him in his officers’ saloon stabled on a siding in the station. The three of us arrived at Nagpur station, and were warmly received by the gentleman who made us feel very comfortable in his saloon, even offering us refreshments. He seemed pleased and congratulated us on winning the case. Borge never spoke of the payment he owed us, but assured us he would recommend us for transfer to more suitable locations.
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The official had been very cordial with us, and seeing that he had repented of his mistake, we did not feel like pursuing the matter of payment any further. Better to forgive and forget !
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Borge proved to be as good as his word. Within a short time my friends were transferred to Nagpur, and I was posted to Amla, a big station close to Betul. It was such a great relief for us all. All is well that ends well !!
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VINOD NANEKAR
Dy. Station Superintendent (Retd)
Central Railway, Nagpur