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Sunday, April 1, 2018

law of triviality ~ difference between big and small crime !!


Punjab National Bank (PNB) was at  the centre of a $1.8 billion fraud - one of the largest to be detected across the Indian banking sector. The statement that it had detected some “fraudulent and unauthorised transactions (messages)”,  might sound  innocuous – but the quantum is disclosed to be several crores.  We have heard of many scams, speak, debate on them, till next one gets unearthed and slowly forget them………. How many of us still remember Bofors, and Fairfax…. !!  ~ one has lost track and wonders how many cases have been taken to logical end and how many got convicted ?  Perhaps, in the present regime, we have not heard of any such scams ~ though there have been so many during the dynasty rule !! 

For those of you born later, here are some, which you may not have heard of !!  ~ in 1948 there was the ‘Jeep scandal’  the then Indian high commissioner to Britain, ignored protocols and signed a Rs 80 lakh contract for the purchase of army jeeps with a foreign firm.  A decade and half later, came the Mundhra scandal that exposed the nexus between the Bureaucracy, stock market speculators and small rogue businessmen. It also brought to light rifts between the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his son-in-law Feroze Gandhi, and also led to the resignation of India's then finance minister T. T. Krishnamachari.  In 1971 it was ‘Nagarwala scandal’ in which a person convinced a banker withdrawal of 60 lakhs from the branch of the State Bank of India. Nagarwala called Malhotra at the State Bank of India, imitating voice of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi stating that he  immediately needed Rs 60 lakhs reportedly for a secret mission for Bangladesh.  ~ all those are buried and forgotten !!

Anniyan [literally Stranger] had a great theme – conceptually it was the guilty being punished… through the character of an innocent and honest lawyer.  One powerful dialogue penned by the Great Sujatha became an instant hit – but remembered more of a comedy… it was - “Anju paisa thiruduna thappaa? (Is stealing of five paise is wrong)” ~ it is not that 5 paise but the act of stealing and the impact is not that of that single act – but that of attitude – when lakhs of people all steal 5 paise – the effect is manifold and corruption is the biggest disease that afflicts the Nation. 

So does ‘triviality’ matter indeed ??  ~ the noun would mean something that is not important:  the state of not being important.  It would also mean : lack of seriousness or importance; insignificance; an insignificant detail; a trifle.

"an over-concentration on trivialities" – was reported in Civil Appeal no. 18799/2017 in Union of India &Ors. Vs. Amit Singh before the Apex Court of India.  The respondent was terminated from service on the basis of information gathered, on verification of the antecedents. Though it was done after three years of entering service, it was found that the respondent had been involved in a criminal case.   According to the learned counsel for the respondent, it was a trivial issue between the friends in a cricket match and hence the same was compounded by the learned Magistrate.  The contention was that information given to the employer by a candidate as to conviction, acquittal or arrest, or pendency of a criminal case, whether before or after entering into service must be true and there should be no suppression or false mention of required information.

Parkinson's law of triviality contends that  members of an organisation give disproportionate weight to trivial issues.  The  example cited was that  of a fictional committee whose job was to approve the plans for a nuclear power plant spending the majority of its time on discussions about relatively minor but easy-to-grasp issues, such as what materials to use for the staff bike shed, while neglecting the proposed design of the plant itself, which is far more important and a far more difficult and complex task. The law has been applied to software development and other activities. The term bike-shed effect or bike-shedding was coined as a metaphor to illuminate the law of triviality. 

Now read this newsitem that appeared in Times of India – Chennai edition - Departmental action was  initiated against a government bus conductor in Chennai after a checking squad found a difference of 1 between the value of tickets sold by him and the amount collected. K Siva, a conductor from Aynavaram depot, said he had mistakenly given a new 2 coin instead of 1to a passenger in a crowded MTC bus.

Siva on that evening, was issuing tickets to passengers on a bus to Pudur from Villivakkam, when a ticket checking squad boarded the vehicle near Madhanakuppam. The team found a woman passenger travelling without ticket worth 7. When asked, she told the checking inspectors she had handed over the fare to Siva, but he did not issue her the ticket. Inspectors checked the Traffic Record (TR), which carries details about the number of tickets sold and collection made. “If their claims were right, the amount collected through sale of tickets should have exceed the value of tickets sold. But it fell short by just one rupee,” said Siva. “I gave a two rupee coin to one of the passengers instead of one rupee coin by mistake. It is difficult to differentiate it by size in a crowded bus in which a conductor is expected to issue tickets within a few seconds,” he added.

Authorities, however, handed him a memo  for not issuing a ticket to a passenger and for the collection falling short. The conductor was instructed not to report to work until the inquiry was over. In a separate incident, a MTC driver from Kundrathur depot was suspended for using mobile phone while driving based on a passenger’s complaint.

Does that sound too trivial or a right and justified action ?

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
19th Mar 2018


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