Mohammad Shafi Pandit, IAS, Jammu & Kashmir
Payment of Salary through Cheques
In 1995, while I was serving, at the Central level, as Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Welfare, and militancy was at its peak in my home state, my services were urgently requisitioned by the then Governor, J&K State. With pressure from the PMO, I had to yield and get repatriated to my cadre, somewhat prematurely. I got my posting as Additional Chief Secretary, in charge of Finance.
One of the first, among the many challenges for me, was to deal with multiple requests for allowing double drawl of salary for some field formations, on the pretext that the militants had looted the cash dispatches, while being carried to far flung areas.
I was taken by surprise, because, in the central government, payment of salary in cash was unheard of. Although, back in the State, payment of salary in cash had been the norm earlier, but I could not imagine that this would have continued after the imposition of Governor Rule in early nineties. I immediately took it upon myself to make it obligatory for all government employees to open bank accounts and receive salary only through their accounts.
As soon as the orders were issued, all hell broke loose, and employees took out processions against me, and banners carrying my caricatures were taken out in the city. Some sections of employee’s gheraoed my office in the Secretariat. Surprisingly, even disciplined forces like the Police Organization, sought exemption from the order.
Little did I realize that payment of salary in cash meant huge flow of money to certain sections of employees, especially the cashiers? It was shocking to hear that in the case of teachers, the cashier’s cut (shared with the supervisory staff/officers) could be as high as 40%, the reason being that some of the teachers were operating only in name, or in absentia by proxy. One of the untenable arguments advanced by the employee’s unions was that, in far flung areas, there were no bank branches. I countered by saying that, wherever J&K Bank Ltd did not have presence (others had little or no presence at all other than cities), the cheque could be cashed through accounts at post offices, which had a presence in almost all the village clusters.
I stood my ground, and with some temporary reprieve granted to police organization, (in the interest of saving our own lives!), the order got finally implemented in full.
The antagonistic feeling of employees towards me didn’t continue for long. They soon started looking upon me as their best friend, after seeing good balances accumulating in their accounts, at the end of each month, which would normally have gone to cashiers. It didn’t take much time for them and their union leaders to convert their attitude of grumbling into gratitude for me.
The implementation of this decision had both short term and long-term impact. The state finances benefitted immediately, because the need for double drawal of salary was avoided, and the possibility of fraudulent drawals was much reduced.
As regards the economy, the impact came through the Jammu and Kashmir Bank Ltd, which received a bonanza of three and a half lakh accounts, without any labored outreach on their part. They could now, hugely enhance their consumer loan portfolio, through the employees, without incurring any risk of default, because the bank now controlled the salary flow, keeping in view their own demands on the employees. The spread of this portfolio, which has witnessed a phenomenal increase over the years, has become a major source of income for the bank and has given a makeover to their balance sheet.
At the same time, the quantum of money in the state economy, also massively increased, over the years, without involving the state finances.
I lay no claim to having done wonders through any of these initiatives. Any of my colleagues could have done it as well. But I was lucky enough to have been there at the right time, to fulfil the need of the hour, and find the propitious circumstances to implement these ideas, and take them to a logical conclusion.
The joy created by these experiences has been enduring, as their impact has been extraordinary. As time went by, they have become happy memories, which give joy not just once, but as and when recollected, or narrated.