Indian Coffee House shows the way
Posted June 26, 2009on:
Indian Coffee Workers’ Cooperative Society Limited (Jabalpur), which runs Indian Coffee Houses in Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh and several other States, celebrated its Golden Jubilee early this month. It must be the only commercial venture in the country — in the cooperative sector or even outside of it — to complete half a century of growth and prosperity with no news of a scam, scandal, controversy, mutual differences, rivalry or misappropriation of funds.
When the Society decided to start its own coffee house in the building, vacated by the India Coffee Board, in Jabalpur 50 years ago, the landlord did not trust that it would be in a position to pay the rent. The landlord relented only at the intervention of the then Collector of Jabalpur who assured the landlord that P.Sadasivan Nair took the responsibility of paying the rent. The Society today owns a chain of coffee houses and has its own buildings. Nair, an advocate, is the patron of the Society today.
The initial years were difficult for the employees who had to put in hard work and be content with meagre wages. It was the devotion of the employees that turned the corner. (Those who have had occasion to visit the Indian Coffee Houses run by the Society must have noticed the dedication with which the employees serve).
Today not only the monthly salaries of the employees have become quite respectful, but they also get several other benefits which many other organisations are gradually withdrawing. These include earned leave for 52 days in a year; leave travel allowance; medical allowance; education allowance for their children; house rent allowance; group insurance; and two types of pension – one paid by the Society and the other by the Provident Fund Organisation. By the time an employee retires at the age of 60 years, he will possibly have his own house (with the liberal loan granted by the Society), and have his children educated, married and well settled. At retirement, an employee gets roughly Rs 15 lakh in cash from his contribution to the provident fund, gratuity and other allowances.
The tips contributed by the customers do not go to individual employees. These are collected in a common box and the amount is distributed among the employees at the end of the month. Those assigned the managerial duties are not eligible for a share in the tips.
Perhaps the most notable feature of the working of the Society is that an employee has to start at the bottom rung and then he climbs up, on the basis of his seniority and merit. No recruitment is made to the middle and higher rungs. O.K.Rajagopalan, who today occupies the highest position as the president and senior general manage of the Society, had, for instance, to start at the lowest level in the kitchen. So is true of the next in the hierarchy, M.Ravindran who is the vice-president; and also of others who are occupying managerial posts in various establishments.
Only employees, after completion of two years of satisfactory service, can become members of the Society. Exception has been made only in the case of P.Sadasivan Nair, who is the founder-member of the Society, and Indira Nair, a senior advocate who is legal advisor to the Society.
The management of the Society is vested in an 11-member committee (comprising president, vice-president, honorary secretary, hon. joint secretary, hon. treasurer and six members). The office-bearers are elected from among the members of the Society by the members themselves. The term of the committee is five years. An employee ceases to be a member of the Society on retirement or leaving the service.
All the employees, by virtue of being members of the Society, are shareholders. The workers are, therefore, employers as well as employees. All the benefits are distributed to the members.
The idea of forming the cooperative society was born out of the bleak future before the erstwhile employees of the Coffee Board. The Board, with its headquarters at Bangalore, was set up by the Central Government in the early 1940s with a view to popularising coffee. With this objective in view, the Board established “India Coffee Houses” at several cities like Jabalpur, Bombay, Calcutta, Pune, Delhi, Madras, Nagpur, Trichur, etc. As these were incurring losses, the Board decided by the mid-1950s to close down all its coffee houses and retrench the workers.
The Coffee Workers Union protested vehemently throughout India. The matter was raised in Parliament and it was promised that the Coffee Board would help establish coffee houses if the workers so desired. The Jabalpur branch of the Coffee Workers Union had 16 members, mainly from Kerala. After waiting for some time in vain for the promised help from the Coffee Board, they gave up the hope and decided to return to their native places.
It was at that stage that P.Sadasivan Nair, an advocate from Kerala who was practicing in Jabalpur, mooted the idea of starting a cooperative society in place of the trade union. The workers had no enthusiasm and were sceptical about the success of this new venture. They were, however, persuaded by A.K.Gopalan, Member of Parliament, Leader of All India Coffee Board Labour Union, and Subhadra Joshi, also Member of Parliament, to form a cooperative society. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, too, strongly supported the formation of cooperative societies by the workers. Accordingly, the retrenched coffee workers formed cooperative societies in different parts of India. The workers at Jabalpur also formed the society in the name and style of “Indian Coffee Workers’ Cooperative Society Limited, Jabalpur”.
The Jabalpur Society, which started with 16 hesitant members and a capital of Rs 1,365, enters its 51st year with 80 “Indian Coffee Houses” and eight lodges in different parts of the country, and had the capital of Rs 14.93 crore at the close of the last financial year. The major attributes of the Indian Coffee House employees (that have made these coffee houses so popular with the people) are their courtesy, and meek and submissive behaviour towards the customer. Not surprisingly, a large number of public sector undertakings have entrusted the management of their canteens to the Society. NTPC, Bhilai Steel Plant, BALCO, and NMDC are only some of them. Something to savour in these times of scams and frauds!