Bharat Development Society (BDS), a non-profit and non-governmental organization (NGO) was established in 1980. The founder-secretary was a school teacher and he had ambition to explore his potentials in entrepreneurship in the field of education. The NGO, as Sandip knew later, had been created to generate funds to feed his (secretary) ambition. Hence, he formed the governing body by including his own family members, relatives and friends, with an intention that he would have an authoritarian control over the affairs of the NGO. Everything was going on the way as he wanted or desired. Even after more than a decade of its existence there was no ‘personnel policy’ or ‘appropriate remuneration policy’ in the organization. It was not exactly known to others about what would be the execution mechanism of a particular activity or programme. Things were just moving on and it had projects in the fields of ‘elimination of child labour’, ‘drug deaddiction centre ‘and ‘HIV/AIDS prevention programme’. Also it had one dysfunctional Rural Development Unit (RDU) at the native village of founder-secretary.
Being referred by his mentors, Mr. Sandip Deol, an MSW from a central university, joined the NGO with anticipation to get a supportive and enabling working environment to exercise his professional knowledge and skills. He was made the ‘officer-in-charge’ of RDU. Neither he was given an appointment letter nor communicated his terms and conditions of employment. Also he was expected to perform without having any defined job descriptions. He was confused. Further, he was surprised and shocked, when he came to know that the only project at RDU was failure because it was imposed and its feasibility was not assessed. He interacted with the community people, conducted group meetings with them and found an ‘Agro-service Centre’ was very much needed in the village. After conducting a base line survey; he prepared a project proposal and submitted to secretary. The secretary desired to increase the project budget, so that he could seek more fund from the funding organization. Sandip could not find any justification to increase the budget. Ultimately he had no other options than fulfilling the desire of secretary. Sandip started feeling guilty and lost interest in his job. He was unhappy with an unethical 10% deduction from every month’s salary. The situations appearing before him were not at all comfortable to compromise and so, he discussed all the matters with his colleagues. People were only sympathetic to him. Ultimately he decided to quit.
After obtaining his MSW from a central university, Mr. Sandip Deol joined Bharat Development Society (BDS) in 1994. He found himself in a pleasant environment. He thought it was that place where he would be able to apply his classroom teachings into practice. He was introduced to his colleagues and co-workers and everyone had extended their hearty welcome and good wishes to Sandip. He thought he would also meet the secretary but he was not allowed to meet him that day. It was his apprehension that secretary might be busy with some other important assignments, so the meeting was not possible. Next day he was advised to meet him. Sandip got a brief introduction about the society, its ongoing activities and future plans. He was quite impressed with whatever he came to know from the secretary. Then he politely wanted to know his job profile, roles and responsibilities. Very clearly the secretary told that he would be working there as a corporate staff, not as a project staff like others in that organization. Then he asked him to meet Mrs. Seema Mondal, the next higher authority in the NGO for further details. He was not given any appointment letter, so the terms and conditions of employment were not clear to him. He expected Mrs. Mondal to explain everything. But only thing he could understand from her that he would be the ‘officer-in-charge’ of its rural development unit (RDU) with a monthly gross emolument of Rs. 3000, without any other benefits. Still it was not made clear to him whether he was on probation or permanent. Whatever it might be, Sandip agreed to accept the job because it was his need. He tried to console himself to compromise with the limitations of an NGO, about which he was taught in his institute. He returned home with some literature, mostly annual reports, to know more about the organization. He had gone through all and was satisfied. Immediately from next day he started his work with sincerity, honesty and integrity. In the beginning things were going well but later he found himself in dilemma to compromise with some unethical issues and as a result there were conflicts between him and his employer, the secretary. He sought support from his colleagues and co-workers but ultimately he had to quit. Later, many of his colleagues left the NGO and found better alternatives.
Back Ground of BDS
BDS, a non-profit, non-government organization was founded in 1980. It aims at educating every segment of the society and creates a healthy environment in the community so that a viable social defense mechanism is created for fighting social menaces. It is registered under all required legislations which has enabled it to receive funds from both local and international sources including private donations. The founders of BDS had set their vision based on the "man making, character building" principles of Swami Vivekananda. The mission of BDS is set upon the guiding philosophy of 'be and make'.
The major goals of the organization are:
It is involved in capacity building of other NGOs working for the prevention of drug abuse and alcoholism, mentoring and monitoring along with development and distribution of IEC materials. Also it functions as the Counseling Centre on STD/HIV/AIDS. It collaborates with different governments at national and international levels and other International agencies like the Department for International Development (DFID) UK, UNICEF and UNODC.
Board of Trustees
BDS is managed by following Governing Body and a Board of Trustees:
The board here was formed only to fulfill the requirement of law. It was otherwise an instrument at the hand of Mr. V.Talapatra to enjoy his supreme authority and power in the organization. The salaried staffs at BDS heard about democracy and participatory decision-making but in true sense the founder-secretary was the ultimate authority either to endorse or reject a decision taken in the staff meeting. Among the board members Mrs. Sen, Mrs. Mondal and Mrs. Nandini Talapatra were also working as salaried staffs of the society. Mrs. Sen was looking after the academic and administrative affairs of one senior secondary (CBSE) school as its principal. The school was established by the founder of BDS after few years of he started the NGO. Mrs. Mondal was next to secretary in the NGO and she was looking after projects being implemented in slums and other urban areas and Mrs. Nandini Talapatra was the only typist and assistant to secretary and Mrs. Mondal. Both of them had some nicknames in the organization. Many times, Mrs. Nadini had been referred as “Secretary ki chamchi” and “Jr. Boss”. Mrs. Mondal was found to be very closely (emotionally) attached to secretary and so she, many times, had been identified as “Mrs. Talapatra” in BDS.
The Thespians of A Living Theatre
As his exact job-descriptions were unknown, Sandip thought it might be helpful if he could build trust with other professionals and know about their situations. He started establishing rapport with others and came to know that all of them had some given responsibilities under the purview of their respective projects. Mr. Tarun Kumar, an MA in anthropology, was associated with the NGO from its inception and was mainly responsible for the ‘Elimination of Child Labour Project’. He was inducted by Mrs. Mondal and was very obedient to her and later became “Mr.Reliable” to the secretary. He has always maintained ‘yes boss’ attitude and never had any conflict with the higher authorities. Simultaneously he tried to maintain his collegiality with others. But in general people used to avoid him to discuss sensitive and confidential issues. Everyone had the common opinion about him and used to identify him as a person bent down his head to the knees of higher authorities. Sandip’s another colleague Mr. Pradipto Burman, also an MA in anthropology, joined BDS two years prior to him and was looking after HIV/AIDs prevention programme. Mr. Tarun and Mr.Pradipto were classmates at their university. Actually Mr.Tarun was instrumental in bringing Mr. Pradipto to BDS. They were very intimate friends but Pradipto had different ideology and his self-esteem was much higher than Tarun. He was comparatively more professional in his approach and appeared to be very straight forward. Sandip liked him and gradually they came closer and exchanged their personal views and observations about relationships and functioning styles in the NGO. Later he was introduced to Ms. Pratibha, an MA in psychology, the chief psychologist at the Drug Deaddiction Centre and Ms.Shabana, an MA in psychology, the counselor at the same centre. He was introduced to both of them by Pradipto. There were other professionals and staff with whom Sandip had less interactions. Except him all of them to some extent had defined jobs, roles and responsibilities. He wanted to know if there was any personnel policy and / or salary and wage administration in the NGO. Excluding Mr. Tarun, all laughed at him and said jokingly “you prepare the policy and submit to secretary”. Then Tarun left and went to his own desk. Being surprised and shocked, Sandip was sitting alone at his desk. After sometime, Tarun came to him and suggested not to be very skeptical about policies and regulations. ‘What do you mean?’, he asked Tarun. ‘Yaar kaam karo aur mast raho’, he replied very casually. He continued “see me, I’m happy because I do whatever they (secretary and Mrs. Mondal) ask and I take care of their satisfaction first then my job and commitment to project beneficiaries”. It was not the lesson Sandip got from his mentors. It was bothering him and he was very upset. He could not accept his views and suggestions. After about one hour Ms. Pratibha called him and said, “don’t be upset, try to accept the situations here and adjust.” “We too are not very satisfied here but continuing”, she added. She further suggested, “Just continue here till you get some better options”. Ms. Shabana was standing silently in front of them. After taking a deep breath, she uttered, “this is the reality and we can’t do anything”. Then Pradipto appeared and requested all not to discuss about all such issues inside the office. Sandip thought Pradipto was right and so kept quiet.
Sandip’s Situations and Jolts
As he was not in any specific aided project so once again he requested Mrs. Mondal to brief him about their expectations from RDU. That time he came to know that officially the RDU was located in the native village of Mr.Vivekranjan and another brother was looking after the activities there. Madam asked him to visit that village community. Sandip wanted to know little more about that village and ongoing activities there, if any. She only mentioned about one ‘handloom weaving project’ aided by CAPART, New Delhi but didn’t tell him anything more. He was getting ready to visit the village situated 178kms south-east from the registered office of the NGO. He had to book his own tickets and that he did with pleasure. Very soon he reached the village. There Mr. Bibhash, brother of secretary, received him. Sandip was little scared and could not be very comfortable with him. Mr. Bibhash, his wife and their two year’s old little daughter were the only three members in his family. Sandip was little hesitant to interact with them more than required. But he couldn’t keep himself away from that little child. She became very fond of him and that brought him closer to Mr. Bibhash. He himself took initiative and explained the details about the ‘handloom project’. He introduced Sandip to some of the beneficiaries. All were women from BPL families. Many of them left long back. Some were continuing involuntarily because they had no other options. It was a dying project. Mr. Bibhash was sincerely trying to keep that alive but he realized that such a project could not be run by only sincerity, honesty and emotions. He hopelessly remarked ‘it was not at all feasible’. He further added “I never agreed to the project”. Lastly Sandip came to know that it was just imposed. Mr. Bibhash wanted to have one ‘Agro-service and training centre’ in that village. It was not his desire alone but what people expected. It would have been much more beneficial to the marginal and small farmers. Sandip visited the community, interacted with people and realized that was their felt need. After consulting with villagers, he decided to formulate a project proposal on the same. After he came back to his head quarter he had a discussion with secretary and Mrs. Mondal. They suggested going for foreign funding. Sandip agreed and with all relevant data and documents he prepared a proposal of an “Agro-Service Centre” worth Rs. 30 lakhs. It was a five years’ project. But Mr. Vivekranjan wanted to have it for 10 years and asked him to increase the estimated cost to Rs.50 lakhs. Sandip tried to pursue him to stick the proposal but ultimately he had to do what secretary said. The project was accepted by DANIDA (overseas development support by Government of Denmark) and the first installment of Rs.10 lakhs was released to the NGO. The accountant called Sandip and asked to prepare an execution plan for first year and instructed him to limit the estimated costs to Rs. 5 lakhs only. He was shocked and came out of the office of accountant.
Next day when he came to office, secretary called him in his chamber. Mrs. Mondal also was there. Both of them were very polite to him and tried to pull him up to an imaginary post and status with more financial packages. He could not say anything on their face and came out of the chamber. All those happened within two months of his employment. Since Sandip had to frequently visit the rural unit, he could not draw his emoluments in time. His two months’ salary was due. The same day, after lunch hour, the accountant called him and handed over a packet and also reimbursed his travel expenses separately. As was required, Sandip signed in a register against Rs.6000. He was bit happy because it was his first earnings. Everyone was looking at him and congratulated. Pradipto and all others demanded a small tea party. Sandip promised and went to home. When counted payment he found 10% less. He thought it might be a counting mistake by the accountant. Immediately he tried to contact him but he was not available. Then he informed the matter to Pradipto. He suggested talking to office next day.
The very next day Sandip informed the matter to accountant. He told him deduction was done as per instructions of secretary. He was not in office so Sandip met Mrs. Mondal. She could not give him any justification but informed that it was an accepted practice there and 10% had been deducted from salary of all every month. That day during lunch hour, Sandip discussed the matter with his colleagues. They too were not satisfied with the deduction but they surrendered to the practice. Earlier no one had given hints about the practice. It was their apprehensions that as a corporate staff he might have different privileges. Sandip felt the practice very embarrassing and unethical. He shared happenings with one of his close friends, Mr.Srinivasan, who was professionally associated with Mr. Vivekranjan as his IT consultant. He had given him few clues which were enough to understand how the secretary misused the project grants and other funds in fulfilling his ambition to become an entrepreneur. Currently he owns few educational institutions including one under graduate college. One day, when secretary and Mrs. Mondal were not in office, Sandip initiated a discussion on the matter with all his colleagues and co-workers including Mrs.Nandini and Mr. Tarun. Mrs. Nandini didn’t like the discussion and she asked him to recant. Mr. Tarun was very reluctant to put any comment. Others were not mute spectators; they supported the discussion without holding someone solely responsible for misappropriation of NGO funds and unethical practices. They raised questions to the functioning of the board. However, neither any proposal was mooted nor any action plan was discussed. The discussion ended with no conclusion or decision. It produced lot of worries in their mind.
Sandip could predict that his days were coming to an end at BDS. He was mentally prepared for any kind of adversities. Which worrying him was his uncertainty to continue there and to fulfill his commitments to beneficiaries of RDU. What to do? Where should he go? Sandip was feeling alienated and guilty. His interest in job was getting reduced and his attention diverted from two more proposal formulations which he was carrying out. He talked to his mentors. They advised him to decide. Sandip finished two pending project proposals and submitted to secretary. After a period of 18 months of service, he had no other options but to quit. Within next six months of his resignation, Pradipto, Pratibha and Shabana too left the NGO.
Was Sandip’s decision to quit justified? Pradipto, Pratibha and Shabana had been working there for more than four years and they were aware about everything what Sandip came to know later. How could they continue their job? Why did they leave after Sandip? Is the 10% regular deduction from salary ethical? The secretary had been able to survive the NGO for last three decades. Can it be recognized as an example of effective leadership? What were the important personality traits of secretary which helped him to survive? The NGO had been sustaining for three decades. How far its vision and mission have contributed to its sustenance? How far Darwin’s theory of ‘survival for the fittest’ is applicable to Mr.Tarun? The principle, ‘do what the secretary says’ had been sincerely followed by Tarun. Was it an appropriate behavior? There could be many more such questions to be answered. What could be the appropriate solution to overcome such dilemma? Finding answer to these questions may help us to improve our decision making and logical analysis skills.
Director, Management Studies, Info Institute of Engineering, Coimbatore
Ms. D. Peethambaram
Assistant Professor, Sri Venkateswara Group of Institutions, Coimbatore.
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