Sergeant Chacko, who was dealing with the officer’s payment, entered the office of Jayaprakash with few vouchers and placed on the table. “Sir, I have spoken to these officers to come and collect TA and DA, their temporary duty allowances.”
Jayaprakash looked at the vouchers and found they were signed by both Adjutant and the Senior Accounts Officer and ensured they were in proper order. Keeping the folder with vouchers on aside, he asked Chacko to go back to his seat. “I will call you when they come to collect the amount.”
Looking at Jayaprakash, Chacko asked with concern, “Sir, will that matter be considered seriously by our Commanding Officer?”
Jayaprakash could guess what he was referring to and said, “I don’t know.” He sounded perturbed but tried to hide his emotions in front of his junior.
When Chacko turned to go away, Jayaprakash asked, “who would have passed this information to Command Headquarters?”
Casting innocence on his face, Chacko said, “sir, there are people in this office who are dead against our Senior Accounts Officer. And also, you know who came recently on posting from Command to this unit and still maintaining allegiance with them to get into their good books.”
Jayaprakash could guess of the ludicrous source of leakage. “I will not blame anyone out of imagination. May-be, some people cannot stand blatant breach of rules and regulations.” He mumbled.
Chacko saw Khanna entering the office and went out wishing him ‘good morning’.
Taking a seat opposite to Jayaprakash, Khanna opened the folder and asked, “these officers haven’t collected their amount so far? They might not be in the dire necessity for money.” He chuckled.
Jayaprakash satisfied him with a return smile.
Leaning forward, Khanna asked, “could you find out the source of the leakage?”
“No sir.” Thinking, he said, “I know from whom the information would have gone out of the section.”
With inquisitiveness, Khanna raised his brows. “Who is that?”
“After confirming, I will let you know.” After a pause, he asked, “what is the use of finding out? The damage has already been done. You and I will be held responsible for this.”
Khanna sat mute thinking, looking outside through the window.
One chaprassy entered the office with permission and informed Khanna that the Station Commander wanted to see him immediately.
Jayaprakash, after the chaprassy left office, looked at Khanna with suspicious eyes. “What for that could be?”
With a grunt, Khanna said, “might be for discussing something else.” He got up with a smile and hurried to the office of the Commanding Officer. Knocking at the door, he entered the office and was offered a seat.
The Commanding Officer, Group Captain Shukla, looked at Khanna and sat mute for a few seconds. “Yesterday, that officer from Command Headquarters had visited me before departing.” He paused. “I may have to take appropriate action against your assistant, Flying Officer Jayaprakash. I understand, he might be having a lot of financial problems, but finding a solution using public money is not condonable. It is a serious offense. Rolling public money to meet personal requirements cannot be tolerated and pardoned. Making leave advance voucher in another officer’s name to cover up his selfish motive should be taken in the right perspective. This is a clear-cut case of purposeful adjustment.” He grunted. “I will not tolerate this sort of nonsense. Playing with public money needs to be considered as the highest impertinence.” His eyes bore the distaste.
Khanna sat mute with an unhappy expression. His mind flip-flopped switching alternately from being contented as his name was not brought out by the Commanding Officer to dejected in implicating his junior for no fault of his own. He nodded and grunted. “You are right sir.”
“You know, I am very strict as far as the misappropriation of the public finds is concerned. I want to see that the person involved is punished exemplarily so that this would be a lesson for everyone in this profession. As a custodian of public funds, it is his responsibility to be accountable to me and you. Misappropriation cannot be tolerated and at no cost condonable.”
Khanna knew the matter had gone beyond his expectations to cover up using his good relations with the Command Accounts Officer. He kept nodding feeling sorry for his junior. He knew, even if he agreed to his involvement, the crime committed was by Jayaprakash and the law will pinpoint blame towards him only.
“If you check the records, probably he would have committed similar imbecility earlier also. As no deficiency of funds was noticed since all transactions were supported by vouchers, you wouldn’t have paid attention. Don’t you think so? He could be a habitual offender!”
Khanna neither opined nor showed any facial reaction to support his views.
The Commanding Officer pressed the call bell and the chaprassy entered his office.
“You ask Adjutant to see me immediately.”
Khanna knew things were going out of his reach and preferred to keep mum.
When the Adjutant entered with a diary to note down the instructions, Shukla said, “you order a court of inquiry. Let Wing Commander Mishra be the Presiding Officer and any other officer as the member.” He briefed about the previous day’s discovery of fraudulence in the Accounts Section by the custodian of the fund himself. “The court should assemble immediately and bring out all facts with their findings and recommendations, within five working days.”
With a nod, the Adjutant noted down the instructions on his diary and left that office.
After taking permission, Khanna also left the office.
Jayaprakash was too keen to know what conversed between the Commanding Officer and Khanna. He had instructed his peon to inform him of the arrival of Khanna to his office. Sooner he got the indication of Khanna’s arrival, Jayaprakash closed his office and hurried to meet him.
Khanna was looking too upset and said, “things are going out of my control. He is in no mood to listen to me.”
“What sir?” The voice of Jayaprakash was too feeble to be heard. He knew what would the degree of seriousness they hatch for such a mistake; though there was no misappropriation of funds. It was only an adjustment. But he knew, any mistake however small or large, irrespective of the amount involved, the view by the authorities would be the same. The mistake is valued based on deviation from the laid down procedure code.
“He has asked the Adjutant to order a Court of Inquiry. Wing Commander Mishra will be the Presiding Officer.”
Jayaprakash sat wearily of hearing the information of ordering a Court of Inquiry. “That means, we both will be blamed?”
Khanna could not find words to reply. He nodded fixing his gaze on his face.
Jayaprakash felt the soil under feet was getting eroded. The unnecessary burden was taken to help his senior was sure to harm his career and probably his job itself. If the court finds no satisfying evidence in his favor, he knew, he was sure to be blamed. He felt frustrated thinking of his future which will be at stake. The assurances from Khanna to get the whole issue hushed up taking the help of the Command Accounts Officer had vanished making him think of getting slipped into the ocean of agonies. Suddenly, he felt a vacuum in front of him within which he swam aimlessly.
“Sir, I had taken this risk just to help you out. I hope you will not put the entire blame on me. You should shoulder the responsibility of the entire episode making me only a pawn. I haven’t got any benefit out of this favoritism. On compulsion, I was made to obey you and I am sure, you will consider my sincerity towards you and service.”
Khanna tried to smile. “That will be always there. I will see that nothing happens to you.” When he saw a smile sprouting on his lips, he felt sorry for him.
Jayaprakash was well aware of the repercussions awaiting him. Sitting mechanically in the office he was unable to concentrate on his work and did only unavoidable money transactions. When Chacko approached him for various routine works, he dissuaded him with instructions to postpone for the next day. At about one o’clock, the chaprassy brought the Station Routine Orders, and in that Jayaprakash saw the published constitution of the Court of Inquiry with Wing Commander Mishra as the presiding officer and Flight Lieutenant Johar as the member. He knew his career was going to be truncated with the award of unexpected punishments. An unexpected reward for his long unblemished service and sincerity to his senior!
At one-thirty, when the working hours were over, Jayaprakash picked up his briefcase and walked towards the vehicle parking area without getting engaged in communication with anyone met on the corridor.
After lunch, while Jayaprakash was lying with the newspaper over the chest, Riya approached him and showed inquisitiveness to find out the latest on the subject of leave advance.
Jayaprakash tried to smile. “The matter has gone to the Station Commander and he has directed the Adjutant to order a Court of Inquiry.”
She could read the scale of his concern of the impending repercussions on his face. She could not think of ways to pacify him as she was not fully aware of the impact of such an inquiry. She knew that was the preliminary stage to find the facts of any crime and to apportion blame on someone accountable. “Let the inquiry be ordered, daddy. You have not taken a single penny out of that. The mistake was committed on instructions of Khanna uncle and I am sure he will bear the whole responsibility.”
Jayaprakash looked at her. He chuckled appreciating her efforts to console him. “I am banking on his support. He is sure to uphold his primary responsibility in persuading me to do that.” Thinking he said. “He is a thorough gentleman. But, being a responsible officer and custodian of the government funds, I should not have fallen prey to someone’s compulsion to divert funds – let that be anyone, even the Commanding Officer.”
She could get what he was trying to convey.