Certain things really work
It was hot and humid in Chennai and it was the summer of 2003. I had gone to Chennai to meet the Assistant Commissioner of Labour who was to launch prosecution proceedings against the Directors of one of the Companies I was associated with. There were some very minor discrepancies in the registers under labour laws which was used as a ruse to start prosecution proceedings. Proceedings are never initiated for minor discrepancies.
The real cause was that when the Assistant Commissioner of Labour visited the factory one hot and sweltering afternoon, he was not respectfully treated and made to wait at the factory gates. Government Officers are too conscious about the authority they wield and do not take kindly to anything that hurts their ego. My mission at Chennai was to soothe his ego and ensure proceedings are dropped. The least I wanted was to see the Directors appearing in the Magistrate Court at Chennai and standing in the witness box.
I went to the office of the Assistant Commissioner of Labour and it was around 11 am which is the time when Officers slowly arrive at the government offices. Things have changed since NAMO took over. I was called in around noon and I felt he seemed to be withdrawn and unfriendly the moment I introduced myself. He was this short guy with thick glasses and oily hair. I told him the background of our meeting and asked him to be lenient with us. I was apologetic that he was not given the respect he deserves. I was in this unenviable position but I was clear that I had to protect the Directors. I was tensed and profusely apologized to him. He was unrelenting and told me that the Company had to learn a lesson. I admitted that it was the lapse and indiscretion of one of the officials. Despite my pleadings and declarations, the Officer was firm and in a harsh tone told me not to waste his time. Not one to easily lose cool, I made one final request. He was unmoved and I felt his bruised ego superseded his sanity in arriving at decisions.
Totally dejected and confused as to what needs to be done, I sat on the benches which are a part of the rich heritage of the government offices. My only saving grace, I thought, was my excellent relationship with a lot of peons and other officers. But what could they do in such a situation. I was desperate. Life has its own curious twists and turns. Seeing me crestfallen and disappointed, one of the peons asked me what the issue was. I briefed him but he too seemed helpless. The only way I could lighten myself was to vent my feelings. I continued my conversation and asked him about one Deputy Commissioner of Labour, Mohan, whom I knew very well and who had been transferred to the Electricity Board a couple of years ago. This was a casual ranting more to divert myself from the chaos going on in my mind. I did not know this ranting was precursor to divine intervention at its best. To my joy and surprise, the peon told me that Mr. Mohan was promoted just the earlier week as Joint Commissioner of Labour and was sitting on the sixth floor in the same building .My cup of joy overflowed and I went to the sixth floor.
Mr. Mohan was a very efficient officer, handsome, rotund and full of energy. He had the uncanny knack of resolving labour issues by offering win - win solutions. He was delighted seeing me since we had excellent relations. He asked me what the issue was, probably seeing some worrisome wrinkles on my forehead. I told him what the matter was. He talked to the officer and summoned the related papers and files. He perused the file and seeing there were no violations and discrepancies, called the officer and instructed him to drop the proceedings immediately. He, thereafter, called the Officer to his cabin and explained to him that the Company was known for its clean image and impeccable records and that it would be unfair to proceed against such a company. At the same time to ensure the dignity of his officer, he told me to ensure government officers are given the due respect and attention they deserve.
I sank into the chair and felt lighter by a few kilos. I thanked Mr. Mohan profusely and we had a hearty banter for some more time before I left. While leaving the office, I met the peon who had told me about Mr. Mohan’s promotion. I thanked him but the word he uttered still rings in my ears – “Sir, you always treat people well, and you keep coming to meet everyone here. That in itself pays”.
I informed my boss and the Directors and I received messages saying ’Good job done’. Of course! To this day, I still believe it was divine intervention. But I have to concede that maintaining impeccable records as far as Corporate Governance goes, and ensuring good interpersonal relationships always pays.