Few Articles and Poems (2)

Purshottam Lal, IPS, Punjab


Hindustan Times, October 16, 2017(Spice of life column)

Short course that changed my life’s course

P. Lal


I disliked people heavy on the scales. This probably impelled me to put the pot-bellied policemen, working under me, on the mat, literally, to do front rolls and back rolls and a host of other acrobatics till they brought their body mass index (BMI) within limits.


The dislike continued for quite some time. Then, it so happened that as a deputy inspector general (DIG) in the police, I was deputed to undergo an in-service training programme or a vertical interaction course at the Harish Chandra Mathur State Institute of Public Administration, Jaipur, commonly known as RIPA. We were 20 Indian Police Service officers from different state cadres from the rank of superintendent of police to director general.


On the last day of the week-long programme, a guest faculty speaker who was a professor of behavioural sciences addressed us. He gave us a questionnaire to be responded to. On the basis of our responses, the professor divided us into two groups, consisting of 10 each, and made us sit separately. He named the groups as A and B. Each was asked to write as many attributes of the other as we had perceived during the week’s interaction. I was a part of group A.


As I looked around, I found that most of the officers in the other group were heavy weights, literally, and those in my group were light weight or even feather weight.


The professor collected the sheets after we had done with them, went through the same cursorily and then handed over A’s response to B and B’s to Group A, to be read and pondered over.


Our group members were taken aback to see what the others had written about us. We had been described as conceited, sincere, anxious, short-tempered, impatient, unpleasant company, aggressive, argumentative, excessively ambitious, workaholic, too sensitive, status-conscious, and punctual to a fault. We already knew what we had written about the others such as, talkative, not true to their words, flirts, untrustworthy, jovial, carefree, sloppily dressed, ill-mannered, unpunctual, relaxed and gluttonous.


Then, the professor took over and explained: “Persons in both groups are nature’s creations. Both live and prosper in this very world. Both are two sides of the same coin. Understanding this basic principle will result in better inter-personal relations, leading to maximizing potential to achieve organisational goals”


He added: “A and B is the basic personality phenotypes. There can be varied combinations and sub-classification. The notion that A type people are more prone to coronary heart disease is not conclusively proved but a linear relationship between the two most probably exists. Behavioural therapy, yoga and meditation may help improve the condition. But most of all, A and B should bond together, irrespective of differences in personality types.”


That short course changed the course of my life. I started loving those who were overweight, appreciating and valuing their qualities of the head and the heart, specially their openness, large heartedness and their practical view of the matter and the word.


Middle: Daily World, January 01, 2016

Of Committees, Cabinets and Coteries

  1. Lal


The working of committees, cabinets and groups like those had always intrigued me till…! Please read on.


The wonderment started way back in 1958 when in the first meeting of the students’ council of which I was a nominated member from class VIII, there was utter pandemonium. The president ultimately declared all items on the agenda to have been approved.


Later, as I followed the proceedings of the legislatures of various states and of Parliament, I noticed, to say the least, “irresponsible” conduct by the members, and of their rushing into the well of the house at the drop of a hat! I wondered how decisions on important issues concerning the state could be taken under such circumstances. I also observed that members devoted disproportionately large time in discussing trivial local issues compared to more important national or state issues.


In the1980s, as District Superintendent of Police in Punjab, I had to attend meetings at state headquarters on law and order presided over by the chief minister. DCs and SSPs, besides the chief secretary, home secretary, DG, Police and the intelligence chief also participated in the meetings. I found that at the end of marathon sessions, decisions already taken by the group of five i.e. the CM, CS, HS, DGP and the IG, CID were announced to be implemented on the ground. Also, that the knotty issues were brushed under the carpet, and mundane ones elicited more deliberation.


Then some time in 1990, I chanced upon to read a book, looking to be humorous but based on painstaking research, authored by Cyril Northcote Parkinson, a noted British scholar in public administration. “Parkinson’s Law: The Pursuit of Progress” (1958) gives an insight into how a committee and groups like that work. He coined the term “comitology”, and proposed a “coefficient of inefficiency” for committees, which was the maximum number of members beyond which a committee became inefficient, and effective power passed on to a smaller group variously called a coterie, a kitchen cabinet or a ginger group. The latter groups consisted of about five persons. Thus, governments, organizations and companies are essentially run by “groups of five”!


Parkinson concluded that membership exceeding a number “between 19.9 and 22.4” (approximated to 20) makes a committee manifestly inefficient. He observed that there had been a conscious effort to save the “power” of the British cabinet by restricting the number of members to about 20. There were 23 in1939, and 18 in 1954. Even the present cabinet of David Cameron has only 21 ministers.


Another interesting observation was that larger committees spent more time with trivialities, whereas the smaller groups decided the important matters. He termed it as the “law of triviality” or “the bike-shed effect”. It was so because complex issues like the proposed design of a nuclear power plant were not understood by the majority of the members and hence were approved with least discussion, whereas the easy-to-grasp matters like the material to be used for the staff bike-shed, or the supply of improved refreshment to the staff by office canteen were animatedly discussed!


The secret of the working of the committees and cabinets and groups like those thus revealed, I found myself at ease with all such entities!


Middle: Daily Post, December 3, 2015

Confidential, secret and top secret!

  1. Lal


I asked the office superintendent, ‘What’s secret about it?’, as he presented to me an application for casual leave, marked ‘secret’ at the top. I was posted as a Superintendent of Police in the CID then (1975).


The superintendent looked nonplussed at first but soon enough gathered his wits and came out with the gem: “Being in the CID, all papers typed herein are marked ‘secret’. Also, we deal with secret work; hence, our movements also ought to be kept secret.”


Not impressed with the argument, I scored off the classification and sanctioned the leave. However, this reminded me of an incident when a few years back, I was posted as an ASP in a district, and my boss, the SSP, asked me to check up from the wireless-section in the police lines whether any message had been received from the range DIG sanctioning him two days’ casual leave. The officer in charge informed me that the leave application of the SSP had not till then been transmitted to the DIG office as instructions required movements of senior officers of the district to be sent on wireless in cipher only, and the new code for cipher had not been received from the headquarters!


As I advanced in my career, I learnt of the intricacies of the amazing maze of the classification of government documents, and also of the rigors of the provisions of The Official Secrets Act, 1923, and how the latter is, at times, misinterpreted and misused.


I discovered that there was no statute governing the classification; executive instructions issued during the British rule, ruled the roost in the matter.


Depending on the sensitivity of the information, and its implication for national security, it could be classified into four categories-top secret, secret, confidential and restricted.


The information whose unauthorized disclosure would cause exceptionally grave damage to national security or national interest could be classified as “Top Secret”, whereas the information whose disclosure might cause serious damage to national security or national interest, or serious embarrassment to the government would qualify for being labelled as “Secret”. Confidential tag is for the information which might cause damage to national security, be prejudicial to national interest or might embarrass the government. “Restricted” is for information meant only for official use.


The biggest challenge to the “cloaking” policy of the government came from The Right to Information Act, 2005 which, inter alia, lays down that in case of a clash with the OSA, the public interest would prevail. However, the clever Public Information Officers designated as such by public authorities under the RTI Act have found amusing ways to deny the information. One such handle, often employed, is terming the information sought as ‘Third Party Information’ which cannot be disclosed without the consent of that party. Thus, when in a particular case, the complainant against a senior government officer wanted to know, under the RTI, the result of the action taken on her complaints against that officer, she was informed that the same could not be disclosed as the information sought was a “ Third Party” information, and the concerned party had not agreed to the disclosure of the same!


I only hope I am not hauled up by the authorities under The Official Secrets Act for revealing, in this piece, the secrets of classifications of government documents!






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