Eye witness....

Eye witness....

Durgadas P.V.

This happened in the 1980s.

I was once deputed for inspection of a bank branch on the Ranchi - Hazaribagh highway. The branch was moderately big and busy. As per RBI standards, it was a medium branch with very high foot falls.The cash transactions were also heavy.

The branch was subjected to dacoity a couple of times, the latter one happened just weeks before I made the visit. The branch had not fully recovered from it. The staff and a few customers were seen discussing about it in hushed voices when I was busy inspecting the records. Since the dacoity had taken place recently, it was also supposed to find place in my inspection report.

The persons who committed the crime appeared to have planned it well.They had chosen a lean time after two in the afternoon almost immediately after cash hours. There was a supply of cash from Ranchi currency chest during the banking hours that day. Two men with their faces covered first entered the hall with revolvers in hand asked the few remaining customers to go into the nearby store room and locked it from outside. The staff were asked to stop work, drop their pens and lift their arms. A small group entered the cash cabin dumped all the cash barring twenties and lower denominations in sacks and made a quick exit. Before leaving they forcefully made the counter clerks remove their watches, gold rings and other valuables too. The last act was a strongly worded threat in chaste Hindi against following them....They apparently disappeared on three /four Hero Honda motorcycles stolen recently from the nearby town. The story was revealed to me in bits and pieces by different staff members on different dates. Even after the formalities of police complaint, investigation by senior officials and forensic experts including the dog squad, there was no headway reported in nabbing the culprits. By now I had taken a mental note to report the matter with a special note to Head office.

On the fifth day of my duty in the branch, after the lunch I was discussing some credit matter in manager's cabin, one of the clerks rushed in with a news about a telephone call he received just then. The call was basically a short monologue or a crisp message from an undisclosed character. The short message conveyed was that the staff in the branch would get a " bulava " from the police station calling them for an identification parade of the suspects caught in connection with the recent looting incident. While conveying the second part of the message, the voice of the staff was visibly shaking.The caller had given stiff warning regarding dire consequences if any staff identified anyone of the suspects.......!

I immediately said that we should certainly bring the culprits to book and ensure they get the maximum punishment they deserved. I told the manager that he should see that the staff were briefed accordingly.

Within a couple of days, the message did come exactly as informed by the telephone caller. The staff members went to the police station for the identification parade. In spite of my strict instructions, the staff came back from the police station without identifying anyone. The reason stated was very simple. All of them were scared of their own lives. When I threatened them about reporting the matter , they retorted...." Suppose something happens to us, will the bank take care of our families.....? Don't you know that we ourselves have lost our money and valuables. But we are worried about our own safety...."

I could not give them any reply with reasoning. I only felt that they should have told the truth to book the culprits as a part of their duty.....!

The inspection was coming to a close. It was customary to make a couple of field visits before the conclusion. I chose a few accounts financed in the recent past after the last audit. One unit was ten kilometers away from the branch.

After the visit was over, I preferred to have a cup of tea. The field officer with whom I travelled took me to a wayside " dabha " . It took a little longer for the tea to be served. In the meantime I could not but watch the happenings there. There was some talk going on nearby among a group of about six people. Suddenly the talk turned out to be an loud altercation in the local dialect. The gun shots which followed were least expected. I could hear some shots and see splinters flying from the edge of the tables as I was literally thrown out of the chair. I did not dare to look if any one was hurt or killed. We ran for life out of the shack. My field officer said that we should vanish from the scene without waiting for the tea which we had ordered. I had sat on the pillion of the bullet motorcycle even before he completed his words and kick started it.

Since the work of inspection was almost over, I sent word that I was winding up the work and returning to head quarters. I did return to Patna that night itself. I convinced my boss to give me a branch in Madhubani the district bordering Nepal. I also made records that I had started the audit  in the new branch the previous day itself....!

Should I make a confession that I did not report about the " dereliction " of duty by the counter clerks in not identifying the dacoits at the police station....?

Should I elaborate the reason too....?