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Eek! It’s compulsory waiting

- How a harmless coinage metamorphosed into a dreaded sword

Calcutta, Dec. 3: Decades after enriching the lexicon with stellar entries such as “gherao” and “load-shedding”, Bengal has breathed fresh life into a chameleonic coinage: “compulsory waiting”.

K. Jayaraman, the erstwhile commissioner of police in Siliguri, is now on “compulsory waiting”. IAS officer G. Kiran Kumar, the Malda district magistrate whose arrest landed the IPS officer in the particular category, is now on simple leave. Sources suggest Kumar, accused of releasing funds for unfinished projects, may also be put on compulsory waiting once his 15-day leave ends.

Which brings up the question: is “compulsory waiting” a punishment or a reward?

The Telegraph tries to chronicle the chequered history of the deceptive “compulsive waiting”.

Benign birth

The expression was coined to denote a situation where an officer has to wait in case there are no vacancies in the posts earmarked for the cadre. An officer on “compulsory waiting” is expected to automatically get a posting whenever there is a vacancy. At times, officers returning from central deputation have to spend a few days on “compulsory waiting” till they are assigned a post.

The government can send any of its employees — from top bureaucrats to Group D staff — on compulsory waiting.

So, “compulsory waiting” was little more than a sterile coinage — as most official terms are expected to be.

Baby grows fangs

As the number of IAS or IPS officers is far lower than the number of posts in Bengal, ideally there should be no one on compulsory waiting. But officers are regularly put on compulsory waiting, which has strengthened a perception that it is punishment bay. More WBCS officers find themselves in the category than those from the IAS.

“In Bengal, compulsory waiting is used as a tool to punish officers who upset the establishment,” said a senior IAS officer. “The earlier government also used it but this government has taken it to new heights,” he added.

According to him, a classic example is the case of former WBPDCL chairman Barun Roy, who was placed on compulsory waiting for going on a foreign trip without clearance from the top.

Another official recalled a minister thundering a few years ago, pointing to an IAS officer who was suspected to have leaked information to a journalist: “We have to put this officer on compulsory waiting.”

The cloud of leak appears to be a sure-fire passport to “compulsory waiting” country. An official recounted how a senior IAS officer put two personal secretaries of his predecessor on compulsory waiting as he was suspicious that the two individuals had been leaking information under their earlier boss.

The concept is by no means confined to Bengal. Veteran officers from Bihar recalled that such postings were common when Lalu Prasad was in power.

Since the phrase had not lost its original meaning then, officers in Bihar used the expression “waiting for posts” to differentiate the penalised category from those waiting because of other reasons. Behind the backs of those punished, a more evocative but less considerate “corridor posting” was preferred.

Not fair

“The practice of putting officers on compulsory waiting to punish them is wrong,” said an officer in Calcutta.

According to him, if an officer has done something wrong, the person should be showcaused and given a chance to explain his or her side of the story before initiating proceedings.

“Placing someone on compulsory waiting as a punishment only adds to uncertainty about who will face the axe next as the government can send someone on compulsory waiting any time,” said an officer.

Life changes

“Life is difficult when you are put on compulsory waiting,” said an officer who has seen his colleagues suffer.

There is no designated post for the person and the officer remains without work. But that doesn’t mean that the officer can idle at home. The officer has to report every day to a designated officer and spend the working hours in the vicinity. Which means that the Bihar coinage — “corridor posting — is not entirely a misnomer.

Officers on compulsory wait are entitled to monetary benefits. But in the absence of any post, they do not get other tangibles — office car, telephone bill reimbursement —and the intangible benefit called sense of power. “As the connotation of compulsory waiting has become negative, it is a stigma for any self-respecting person,” said an officer.

Fear factor

So, compulsory waiting is a Sword of Damocles that was never meant to be so. Some bureaucrats complained that the stick of compulsory waiting is often dangled to make the officers pliant.

However, it is also all in the mind. So far, Jayaraman seems to have gone by the original letter and spirit of compulsory waiting. “I will report to the police directorate tomorrow,” the luxuriously moustachioed officer had said with a smile yesterday.

That’s a rarity, a young IAS officer said. “The fact is no one wants to be put on compulsory waiting.”