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The System Of Orderlies

The System Of Orderlies

Abdul Kareem Gavaskar was admitted to the Government Medical College Hospital at Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala with severe injuries to his spine. I saw his picture with his neck locked in a cervical collar. He was allegedly hit several times by the daughter of a senior IPS officer, who was angry that he came late to pick her up from where she had gone for a morning walk.

Snigdha Kumar, daughter of ADGP Sudesh Kumar, hit him with her mobile phone. Nowhere in the police manual is it said that a police constable should allow himself to be subjected to such an attack. Anyway, the girl also filed a retaliatory complaint with the police that she was attacked by Gavaskar, who was posted as her father’s orderly.

A mass circulation Malayalam daily reported that 2,000 policemen were employed as orderlies in Kerala. This constituted a huge drain on the resources of the state, which could have been utilised for better policing. Gavaskar has been quoted as saying that the orderly system was bad and it should be ended as quickly as possible.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has indicated that his government would, sooner than later, do away with the orderly system. As reports suggest, there had been half-hearted attempts in the past to end it but it persisted mainly because the politicians, the police officers and, to some extent, even the orderlies themselves want the system to continue.

Let me narrate an anecdote. Hari Jaisingh was the Chief Editor of The Tribune when I joined the paper as Senior Associate Editor in 2003. He had only one week to go before his contract came to an end. He was given a police officer as his personal security guard because he faced a threat to his life. Jaisingh’s successor HK Dua was at that time at Stockholm, as India’s Ambassador. My job was to keep the chair warm for Dua for about two and a half months.

One day, Jaisingh’s security officer met me and made a request that I keep him as my security officer. He told me that all I needed to do was to give an application that I felt a security threat and I needed his service. I told him jokingly that I did not face any threat and no “Khalistani” would waste a bullet for me. He returned disappointed.

Immediately thereafter, Jaisingh’s secretary met me and said that the officer wanted to continue in the post. Out of curiosity, I asked him what benefits I had if I kept him. He told me that I would not have to pay parking fees anywhere. “He can also fetch you vegetables”. I politely told him that I was not interested in his services. Later, Dua also refused to avail of the services of a security officer.

The officer had got used to spending his time at the Tribune office, enjoying heavily-subsidised tea, snacks and lunch. All he had to do was to occupy the front seat of the Chief Editor’s car wherever he went. It was a “soft duty” for him. Many orderlies themselves like to do such duties because they are better than guarding a corpse or controlling stone-pelters. In short, the problem is deeper than is assumed.

The Chief Minister blamed the officers who were from other states because they could not appreciate the kind of social conditions that existed in the state. What he meant was that if Sudesh Kumar’s family treated Gavaskar better, then the system could have continued. The daughter of a colleague of mine — a Sardarji — was selected for the civil services. She secured a very high rank.

When she told me that she chose the Karnataka cadre, I asked her why she did not choose Kerala. Her answer was an eye-opener. She said few non-Keralites wanted to join the Kerala cadre because it was not possible for them to use the official car for personal work. “If I send my official car to bring my parents from the railway station, a local newspaper would publish a story with a picture of my parents boarding the car that I am corrupt and that I misuse official machinery for personal purposes”.

It was not a single person’s opinion. I cross-checked this comment with some other civil service recruits and I found that few wanted to join the Kerala cadre. Even those who belong to the Kerala cadre would prefer to shift to New Delhi and stay there for as long as possible. The new Chief Secretary of Kerala will have about one and half year of service. It is only because some who are senior to him do not want to return to Kerala.

In one case, the daughter of a super cop of Punjab found her life extremely difficult as her husband, a Kerala-cadre IPS officer, had only a small two-room official quarter to live in Thiruvananthapuram. She was used to living in a farm house in Punjab, taken care of by dozens of orderlies. The last I heard was that they got separated.

Once I wrote a Middle — a short piece in lighter vein — in a newspaper. It was about a District Magistrate, also called Collector in some places. Wherever the DM went for inspection, he walked behind his court official, who wore a turban and a red band across his chest. 

The DM decided to do away with the practice and visited a subdivisional office without such paraphernalia. Nobody paid any attention to him because a DM was recognised by his trappings like an Army officer by his medals and insignia.

It is debatable who introduced the system of orderlies in India. Since the British can be conveniently blamed for everything, let’s blame them for this too. The British officials were paid a huge salary. A district collector used to get Rs 5000 a month, when a teacher’s monthly salary was Rs 5. He could afford to keep a large retinue of servants. 

They treated themselves like the Maharajas who were known for their opulence. The Maharaja of Kapurthala employed a person whose only job was to give key to the large collection of diamond-studded, Swiss-made wrist watches he had.

The British did away with the orderly system long back. The Prime Minister of Britain has to employ her own staff to cook for her at 10, Downing Street. Of course, when she organises a state dinner for a visiting dignitary, the official cook takes over the job. If this is the case of the Prime Minister, one can imagine the condition of the police officers.

In Britain, there is only one entry point for the police. Everybody has to start as a beat constable, unlike in India where officers join at a higher level with sky as the limit for their career growth. But in the case of a police constable, however brilliant he may be, he cannot grow in the profession beyond a point. The whole system is flawed.

In many democratic countries, the system of salute has been done away with. In India, it was introduced by the British so that the officer knew that the man saluting him had no weapon in his hand. The salute is now a symbol of status for some. The traffic constable has to salute when he sees a senior police officer passing by in a car. How does the state benefit from the salute?

We need to end such vestiges of colonialism. The police officers claim that they are on duty round the clock and they need the services of orderlies. The policemen also do not have fixed duty time. They have to work according to the exigencies that arise. Are they also provided orderlies at their homes? If a person reaches a certain position, whether in private service or in public service, he has to attend to the needs of his office at all times. That does not entitle him to orderlies.

Yes, some officers are provided personal security guards, which may be necessary but what happens is that such guards are often engaged to do household work. The police have a dog squad. To use the services of such a policeman to give a bath to an officer’s personal pet is unacceptable.

The pilot of a sophisticated aircraft that the Government of India uses for certain strategic operations told me once that the worst experience in his life was when he had to use the aircraft to transport the pet dog of an officer. This is the kind of misuse that happens in government service.

The system of orderlies prevails in the Army too. The higher the rank, the higher is the number of orderlies sanctioned to him or appropriated by him. In the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force, the system was ended sometime ago. Why can’t it be ended in the Army too? To put it simply, why can’t an officer polish his own shoes? If we want to retain our distinction as the world’s largest democracy, we should also behave like great democracies.

I have a relative whose job was to keep the fleet of aircraft of a West Asian King in perfect order. Many a time, he would be asked to keep an aircraft ready for a flight. It would be filled with food and beverages to meet the needs of the king and his entourage. And, then, at the eleventh hour, he would be told that the flight was cancelled. Such a wastage is fine in a monarchy where the monarch can’t do anything wrong but not in a democracy.

Pinarayi Vijayan is hardly in a position to end the orderly system. This is because he presides over a system which is wholly redundant and corrupt. Every minister employs a large number of staff in his office. Many of them are not even qualified to hold such offices.

Does he have the courage to ask his ministerial colleagues to trim their staff? Worse, such personal staff are also entitled to receive pension whereas in government service, one has to serve for several decades to be eligible to get pension. 

I was once associated with a Kerala politician for a brief period. I noticed that he did not carry even his own mobile phone. He had an “orderly” who would fold a white handkerchief and place it on the table with the mobile on it just before the leader occupied his seat. Today he is an MLA. How can he be expected to change if he becomes a minister tomorrow?

In Rome it has become a common sight for Pope Francis to carry his own bag while boarding an aircraft or a car. In Kerala, forget a minister or an MLA, even a panchayat member would not carry his own luggage. That is why MPs are allowed to have his/her spouse/attendant/boyfriend/girlfriend to travel with him/her at state cost.

This is not a problem peculiar to Kerala. In fact, the system is worse in other states and even at the Centre. Recently, I saw a video clip of the President of Italy arriving at his office in a taxi car and he himself opening the car and walking towards his office clutching at a bag. Yes, there were some policemen guarding him.

Now, compare it with how the Indian Prime Minister travels. He travels in a convoy of vehicles which also has a medical van with all the facilities to even conduct an emergency bypass surgery. That too for a 56-inch-chested PM who constantly does yoga, both physical and oratorical! No other country spends as much money on security of its politicians as India.

Democracy does not mean five-yearly elections alone. It means bringing into force a democratic system where man does not exploit man. Orderlies in the police and the Army are as unacceptable as a minister in Kerala employing as many as 45 people in his personal secretariat.

The people in Kerala claim to be the most educated and it is there in such a state that a former minister and MLA manhandled a person in the presence of his mother because he took time to give way to the MLA’s car. It is the mentality that has to change. Let the ministers, bureaucrats and police officers realise that they are there to serve the people and not lord it over them. 

Once that happens, a police officer would not find it uncomfortable to iron his own uniform and the chief minister would not need a convoy of vehicles to travel. In short, we need to be democratic, not feudalistic.

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(Published on 02nd July 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 27)