LOCAL STRUGGLE AT KANNUR.
Telephone operators had to wear headsets, just like flight pilots, for speaking and hearing while on duty. It was not the small and convenient type that is used at present. The left ear will be completely covered by the copper plated set. For speaking, another heavy plastic instrument will be hung in the neck with a mouth piece. One has to have both sets fitted during entire duty time. It was very inconvenient, but no other way. By time of retirement from service, most officials will have hearing problems.
Due to hygienic and other reasons, each official should be provided with individual head gear sets and lockers to keep it. But due to shortage of head gear sets, same were supplied only to the extent of number of switch boards. Operator when leaving board will thoroughly clean and wipe the set with Dettol and cotton before handing over to the incoming operator. Operators will change, but the same set will be used for 24 hours. It was unhealthy and against rules, but could not be helped due to shortage.
One evening, Dettol and cotton supplied in switch room was finished. Engineering Supervisor, who was in charge, was informed asking for fresh supply. Though assured, it was not supplied in the evening or next day morning.
Morning shift staff, whose duty starts at 07.00 hours, was in difficulty as headsets could not be used without cleaning. Sets used by other operators for 7 hours could not be used by another official. Bad smell and dirty. I was also on 07.00 hours duty. Immediately called ESP, who was not serious, replied irresponsibly that it will be supplied by 10.00 hours when he reaches office. As Branch Secretary of the Union, I told him that unless Dettol etc. are supplied, no one will perform duty. 07.00, 08.00 and 09.00 hours shift duty operators came and all sat there without working. We could see many local numbers calling as also calls from other exchanges.
Contacted Sub-Divisional Officer, Kozhikode and reported the situation. He immediately asked me to connect ESP and fired him. Within minutes, ESP reached Exchange, supplied Dettol and work started.
A district headquarters exchange like Kannur being inaccessible for completely more than two hours was a serious issue. Newspapers flashed about strike, caused due to non-supply of Dettol and cotton. Administration was ridiculed and blamed. Higher authorities became irritated and angry. They will never admit their mistakes, but will put responsibility on their subordinates.Divisional Engineer, Kozhikode, issued charge sheets to all the duty operators under Rule-14 of CCS (CCA) Rules, under which, punishments including dismissal could be imposed. Most of the operators were ladies and very juniors. They were in panic about losing their jobs. Divisional Engineer Shri N.Hariharan reached Kannur for preliminary enquiry. I met him and tried to explain what had happened. He was not even prepared to hear me. He threatened with severe punishments.
It was at this time that the All India Conference of All India Telegraph Engineering Class III Union was held at Thiruvananthapuram on 18-24 December 1963. Attended as delegate. Met Com.O.P.Gupta, General Secretary, explained the issue and sought intervention. He was not serious. He simply asked why you have gone on strike on such a trivial issue. Then I met Com.K.G.Bose, a senior leader, who was Circle Secretary, W.Bengal and All India President of Postal Class III Union and explained the problem. He assured that he will raise the issue with higher authorities.
Open session was presided over by Com.D.Gnaniah, Secretary General, NFPTE and inaugurated by Kerala Assembly Speaker Shri Alexander Parambithara. P&T Board Member Shri Sen Gupta, Director of P & T Shri Mahadeva Iyer and other top officers were present. While addressing, K.G.Bose raised the issue and asked Shri Sen Gupta, how charge sheets are being issued for the faults of administration and demanded withdrawal of the same. Shri Sen Gupta during his speech looked at K.G.Bose and assured that, if any charge sheets have been issued in this matter, it will be dropped. My relief was great, hearing the assurance. I also understood the difference between approaches of O.P. Gupta and K.G.Bose. I thanked Bose personally after the meeting. I could also understand the policy differences between the two leaders. I whole heartedly supported stand of Bose and became an ardent follower. In later years, the bond strengthened.
Two days after reaching Kannur, Union Divisional Secretary Com.K.Bhaskaran Nair, called me asking to reach Calicut for a meeting with DET. When we met him, DET Shri Hariharan, told me that he had a re-thinking on the charge sheets and is prepared to reduce the punishment, if all the officials submit apologies. I refused blankly, having the assurance of P&T Board Member in my mind. Another round of discussion. On advice of Bhaskaran Nair, agreed to submit a letter of regret by Branch Union for the incidence. With that, charge sheets were dropped. All were happy. A big success for union.
Thrissur Circle ConferenceJoint Circle conference of NFPTE Unions, Kerala was held at Thrissur on 15-18 May 1964. Com.M.C.Ayyappakutty, then Divisional Secretary, Thrissur was elected as Circle Secretary and me as Asst. Circle Secretary. Ayyappakutty requested for transfer to Thiruvananthapuram to work at HQs, but was not granted by DPT, due to strained relations between administration and union. He had no earned leave at credit. I was asked to proceed to HQs and take over charge from outgoing Circle Secretary, Com.A.K.Koshy. I took earned leave and joined Circle HQs. Stayed in P & T House. Com.V.K.Syed Mohammed, Convener, P&T Co-ordinating Committee, with family was staying there. Many times Mrs. Syed provided me dinner (rice porridge), when I could not get food being late and hotels closed early. Within two months, Ayyappakutty got transfer to Thiruvananthapuram. I returned to Kannur.
Though charge sheets were dropped, DET did not stop there. He issued an order transferring me to Kozhikode, where I was not posted earlier on mutual transfer, as it was a feminised exchange. I knew that transfer was to harass me. It was a period, when all transfers were kept in abeyance due to internal Emergency in connection with border disputes with China and Pakistan.I appealed against transfer to DPT Kerala and then to Director General P&T, New Delhi. Central Head Quarters of the Union also took up the case against the transfer of Branch Secretary. Reply was received that the transfer is in the interest of service and cannot be cancelled. On advise of the Circle Union, decided to join at Kozhikode. (To be continued).