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Diary of an incorruptible man

[Editor’s Note: KKM worked at four different Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) steel plants over his 34-year career, starting from Bhilai in 1958 to Vizag in 1992. Below are a selection of his diary entries that provide a tell-tale glimpse on how he worked and how he lived.]

Rourkela, Orissa (Sometime in 1961)

Returned from office and my wife nervously showed a perambulator that was given by one of the steel plant contractors. Unfortunately the contractor had made it sound like he had already talked to me and since he didn’t leave his name, there was no way the perambulator could be returned. I reprimanded her and told her that she should never accept gifts from anyone directly or indirectly connected with my job.

Recollection from my dear sister: “Remember, he would never accept cakes or even Diwali sweets from contractors!”

Rourkela, Orissa (Sometime in 1965)

The peaceful colony life was rudely interrupted by Hindu-Muslim riots which lasted for a few days. Wife and son were fortunately away in Madras. The management made it optional to work but I worked those days anyway. A Muslim colleague (who lived nearby) was understandably nervous about a mob showing up at his door. I convinced him to stay at our house during the day, locking the door from outside.

Rourkela, Orissa (1963 to 1966)

During my entire career with SAIL, I was thwarted at every promotion step because they don’t want incorruptible people to rise to the top. One of my early bosses (K) was a notoriously corrupt man who quickly sensed that we had an ‘impedance mismatch’ and he sidelined me to the Stores/Purchase department.

K continued harassing me over the years and I got so frustrated in 1966 that I took one month of leave to explore job opportunities in Calcutta. As luck would have it, during this time a vacancy in the Engineering department came up – my name was recommended and upon my return I secured that role. I had become the youngest Zonal Engineer.

Rourkela, Orissa (Sometime in 1966)

The Parliament was the scene of many heated allegations and discussions on corruption in PSUs (Public Sector Undertaking) including the SAIL steel plants. The General Manager of Rourkela Steel Plant appointed me to investigate all active contracts and submit a report to him. A memo was sent to all steel plant officers to cooperate with this investigation – it took 6 months to complete and I still had my regular responsibilities during this time.

After my transfer to Bokaro Steel City was official, many colleagues dropped by to congratulate me and bid goodbye. My corrupt old boss (K) surprisingly dropped by one day. He said “KKM, truth be told I tried my best to spoil your case and I have not succeeded. I don’t know why.” I fished out a copy of the Bhagawat Gita (always in my pocket during my working years) and said that perhaps this was one of the reasons.

Bokaro Steel City, Bihar (circa 1967)

When the transfer orders were sent from Rourkela to Bokaro, they incorrectly reported my old salary (increasing it by Rs. 50). I wrote a letter to the Personnel department and attached a copy of my recent payslips. It took six months before they resolved it. Mr. LN (Personnel Dept) took me aside and asked why I wanted to do such a “stupid thing.” My answer was simple enough – it’s the right thing to do.

Bokaro Steel City, Bihar (sometime in 1969)

I was informed by my then boss about my impending promotion from Zonal Engineer (ZE) to Superintendent Engineer (SE). The letter was typed and ready to be officially sent to me. Much later I learnt about the office intrigue.. a fax was sent from Germany (by a higher-up) to stop my promotion and promote a different candidate who had “seniority”. My well-wishers urged me to appeal against this obvious injustice but I didn’t. I was eventually promoted to SE a year later.

Bokaro Steel City, Bihar (early 70’s)

Soon after the change-of-guard of the plant’s Chairman & Managing Director (CMD), a man from the CMD’s office showed up one day asking for an unauthorized connection ‘outside’ the steel plant. I was able to refuse quite easily – there was no written directive from the CMD’s office.

Vizag Steel Plant, AP (sometime between 1985-87)

A joint venture between the Orissa government and a private company was supplying Vizag Steel Plant with power cables for the main trunk of electrical lines. The first batch of cables they sent were of very poor quality. I ordered my team to take close-up pictures and rejected the consignment. The predictable escalation happened — from Orissa government to central steel ministry to the CMD. In my 1:1 meeting with the CMD, I showed him the pictures where it was evident that it wasn’t even a borderline case.

Vizag Steel Plant, AP (sometime between 1987-89)

A group of 30-40 new graduates from a Bihar-based engineering college showed up at 11am with a letter from their professor and an approval letter from Vizag Steel’s Personnel Department Director. The approval was for 1-2 year ‘commissioning services’ assignment. Something didn’t smell right so I told them to leave the files and return at 3pm. Over lunch I reviewed the files – what caught my attention was they they undergone ‘commission training’ at Bokaro Steel Plant. When I asked them to show the certificate, they said they “hadn’t brought it with them” but pointedly said that your Personnel Director has already approved it. I stood my ground and refused to authorize gate passes to them.

My boss called me to find out why I was ‘holding things up’. What I advised him – “Mr. X, without certificates, it is a very risky practice to admit the trainees, especially in the investigate journalism climate of Vizag. What would you answer if asked why we didn’t hire a single trainee from the local Andhra University but the entire batch from a less-then-well-known college in Bihar? Even if you are prepared to sign and take responsibility for this decision, I would advise you against it.”

The delegation escalated to the CMD who (to his credit) promptly told them you have to deal with KKM and his boss. My boss eventually backed off. The ramification of my stance would be evident a few years later. In 1991, two Deputy General Managers (DGM) (including me) were eligible for promotion to Additional General Manager.  I was not promoted. The CMD presiding over that decision? Mr. X of course.

Vizag Steel Plant, AP (1992)

A few months before I retired, I received a letter from the Government of India, the Central Vigilance Commission’s (CVC) office.  It was an appointment letter to join them after my retirement.. join them in their watchdog role to curtail and weed out corruption in PSUs. Alas! I had to decline. My health and family obligations prevented me from taking up (what would have been) an all-consuming role requiring my full energies and mindshare.]


[Editor’s Closing Note: You’ve probably figured out by now that KKM is my father. He turned 78 this March. Most of the stories described above were told to me (and my siblings) over the years. During my last visit to Hyderabad, I nailed most of the dates and details. Names have been withheld for obvious reasons. Transcription of the journal entries is mine though I’ve tried to retain his style. Happy Father’s Day, Nanna.]