Damned if you do, damned if you don’t — the plight of a public sector banker is unenviable, especially when it comes to decision-making in high value credit. Stories are legion of officers hauled over the coals for having been part of credit decisions because a ”fraud” was declared subsequently.

S Raman, who retired as Chairman and Managing Director of Canara Bank, and as a wholetime Member of the board of SEBI, rose to the top, having started his career as a clerk with SBI. Within two years, he was selected as a direct recruit officer in Bank of India and rose meteorically to be an Executive Director in Union Bank and then as CMD of Canara. He hails from a middle class Tamil family in Hyderabad.

As occupational hazards go, Raman’s hardships started in 2018, years after he retired. He was chairman of the credit committee in 2011 and 2012 when the credit facilities to Winsome Jewellery were renewed. The bank’s share in the consortium limits was only 7.5 per cent.

The loan became an NPA and the case went to the CBI. After a round of questioning, in June 2018, the TV channels reported that Raman had been “booked”.

No official word

A look-out notice followed barring his travel abroad though no case is registered against him. Eight other bank officials charge sheeted in that case stand acquitted. But Raman’s clouds are yet to lift as there is no official word from the agencies. Meanwhile, he also had to cope with the loss of his only son.

From A Car shed to the Corner room and Beyond by Raman is written in the first person. More than a personal memoir, it is an exploration of the intricate dance between personal integrity, professional challenges and the systemic issues of the financial world.

There is no area of work as “risky” as the high-value loans section in banks. I know stories of many upright officers, who are spending time in the corridors of CBI/other courts for the “crime” of having been part of the loan sanctioning/monitoring process, either as accused or as witnesses. In our scheme of things, when the trial starts, “memory would have faded” for many, with the ripeness of age.

Raman’s autobiography is one every public servant can relate to. Just recall the case of HC Gupta, former coal secretary, whose case has been termed as a “Shakespearean tragedy”. Acknowledged by colleagues as one with a lily-white reputation, Gupta got charged for “corruption” under the provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Unique vignettes

Raman’s problem pales in comparison. The narration is linear and continuous, philosophical and covers all details of his illustrious career spanning 46 years. The years spent with banks and the various assignments have a familiar ring to them. There are unique vignettes like the operations of Bank of India in Jersey, a Crown-dependent self-governing island country, the home too of the popular Jersey cow.

But it is as whole-time member of SEBI that Raman came into his own. In charge of FPI and Investment Schemes, he played a stellar role in developing a stable and strong regulatory structure for FPI investments, constructive changes to support the growth of the mutual fund industry and tackling issues under the Collective Investment Schemes.

As you finish reading this book, the picture that emerges is of a home-grown finance sector expert who remains rooted to his origins. In September 2012, when he was heading Canara, he made a visit, wife in tow, to SBI, Hospet, the branch where he started off at age 19. You get an idea of the author and his values from this singular episode. You cannot put down the “tale of this remarkable story-teller and his remarkable story (to quote D Subba Rao from the preface)” without wishing a quietus to his time of troubles.

The reviewer is a commentator on banking and finance.

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About the book

Title: From A Car Shed To The Corner Room & Beyond

Author: S Raman

Publisher: Notion Press

Pages: 432

Price: ₹792