What can you say about a man who completed 50 years creating an essential building block of India’s legal landscape? That he is relentless. And brilliant. That he has never compromised on quality and paid attention to minutest details. And that he has remained fair to his work, his ethics, and to his employees.
Over a period of time, Supreme Court Cases has earned an enviable reputation of being the most accurate and reliable reporting of law in India. This reputation has been painstakingly built over years of hard work and quality control. Eastern Book Company, the parent company of SCC, was established in 1942 by Mr. CL Malik and PL Malik and the baton to lead the organisation was subsequently passed on to Mr Surendra Malik. Over the span of 50 years, he has held a tight leash over the quality of law reports and digests produced by EBC. So particular is Mr Malik about his workmanship, that every single judgment published by SCC has 27 copy-editing inputs in order to make it as readable and user-friendly as possible. It can be safely said that till a couple of years ago he had read almost every judgment delivered by the Supreme Court of India.
Early years and birth of SCC
As a law student in Delhi University in the 1960s, Mr Malik realised that law teaching in India is done mainly through textbooks. This system of teaching widened the gap between how law was taught and practiced in India. Delhi University had just introduced the system of case method of studying law. Further, judgments of the Supreme Court were being reported almost a year after being delivered in the prominent law reports of the day. Many of the judgments did not find their way to the law reports at all. This created a system of secret or hidden law. Only lawyers who knew about the ruling of the Court because they had access to a copy could use them as precedent when the occasion arose. On finishing his LL.B. from the University of Delhi, Faculty of Law and feeling the need to bridge this gap, he along with Shri VG Ramachandran introduced ‘Supreme Court Cases’ reporting all reportable and non-reportable judgments of the Supreme Court of India. The judgments in SCC were being reported with a month or so of being delivered. He was awarded a gold medal by the Delhi University and applied for an LL.M. and was accepted, with full scholarship by seven Universities in the US, including UC Berkley, Yale and Harvard. He chose Columbia University, New York.
On October 1, 1970 after returning from the US he officially took over the editorship of SCC. Over the years, he has put together a team of hardworking professionals who work with him to ensure that the quality and tenor of SCC is top-notch. The teams are diligent and disciplined because they know that even a slight error would mean the press order not being signed by Mr Malik and the entire process being repeated till near perfection is achieved. In his own words, working in EBC is like running a relay race, where each runner passes the baton to the next. If even a single runner drops the baton, the team loses. Each team member has a sense of ownership with respect to tasks and understands that until their work is satisfactorily completed and handed over for the next process, their responsibility is not over.
A father-figure like presence
You talk to anyone who has worked with Mr. Malik and they’ll tell you how much he values his people and makes sure that they know how important they are to the success of this organisation – in actions and in words. A friend, a guide, a teacher and most importantly a father- figure for the entire EBC family, Mr. Malik has always been a pillar of strength to all. From being available emotionally, to giving the much needed financial support in times of crisis, Mr. Malik has done it all.
He has extended help where required and done it quietly, not vying for attention or praise. This trait of his personality is even extended to his professional life. Building the backbone of India’s legal landscape, Mr Malik has never sought the limelight within the legal circles and chooses to work quietly, away from the media glare, letting his work speak for himself.
Mr. Malik goes the extra mile, giving chances to people to rise high in life. Children of the support staff work in IT and Publication departments in the company. One of his oldest and closest aides, who has been working with him since over 30 years, very fondly remembers how Mr. Malik’s words have made him change his outlook and have helped him in leading a life full of values.
In an industry where attrition rate is high, it’s not uncommon to see employees working for more than 20 years ( even more in some cases) in SCC. On most days, hours are respected and decent opportunity is given to all employees to rise high in the organisation. Many employees, who joined as college graduates, have risen to team leaders and managers in the organisation.
One former employee remembers that when she joined the organisation, being differently-abled, she feared that she may be mocked at, but a short meeting with Mr. Malik changed that perspective. Now she has moved on to a different organisation but remembers her time at EBC fondly that she was always given a fair chance and treated equally.
There are a sizable number of female employees in the organisation as work hours are adhered to and flexibility is given to young mothers to manage both work and home. In this day and age of ‘overtime culture’, it is heartening to see that there exists a work environment that is healthy and encourages growth and flexibility within the system. At EBC, it’s not the amount of time put in at work, but the quality of time put in that matters.
A guide, a motivator, an educationist
Mr. Malik has a unique way of encouraging and motivating people. One can often find him reminding his employees to put their heart and soul in their work because the work that they are doing is going to stay even after they are gone. SCC is a success story because Mr. Malik has instilled in his employees that the company belongs to them and not just him. Everyone feels involved that they are creating something that belongs to them. This is not just a cut and dried corporate set-up but the employees here feel a sense of ownership in what they do.
He is not like just any corporate boss but is an educationist. Many employees have advanced under his tutelage. Some joined the organisation not knowing what they wanted to do with their life. Under the guidance of Mr Malik, they found a purpose. Some went on to pursue LLB and LLM after being employed with the organisation under his constant persuasion and encouragement.
The yearly digest or the ‘YD’ is one of the most sought after publications of SCC. Year after year, blood, sweat and tears of the digest team go into making sure the publication is error-free and is produced on time, even in times where the load of cases at the end of the year is very high. When a small ceremony is organised to celebrate the successful launch of YD, Mr. Malik makes it a point to thank not only the employees, who often have to stay back or even take the work home, but also their family members for their support so that the publication goes to press on time. Such warm gestures keep the employees motivated throughout the year.
Teaches through actions, not words
Once a Copy Editor, with their experience and knowledge, made some change to the text which was also approved by the Senior Editor. However, when Mr. Malik later spotted the change while going through the proofs, he picked up a dictionary to make sure whether the change was warranted or not. As it turned out, the change was not required. The Copy Editor at that moment realised that no matter how experienced you are, the process of learning, unlearning and relearning, should never stop.
Tired? Angry? Sorry, you’ve got the wrong Mr. Malik
In an interview in 2008, he was asked what were his retirement plans, to which he responded “I am not doing a job,”. Twelve-years later, at the age of 74, Mr. Malik is still making sure that he is at the top of the things. The Coronavirus has put the World in lockdown, but for Mr. Malik, it’s business as usual. As someone who has always kept himself abreast with the latest technology, working from home has not become a handicap but an opportunity to get more work done.
Work pressure often gets to us but of all the people we talked to, no one remembers Mr. Malik losing his temper. Once a young man, over-enthusiastically pulled Mr Malik’s chair when he was getting up. Mr Malik, unaware that the chair had been pulled away, decided to sit down again and fell. The young man was petrified of what he had done. Being new to the organisation, he started imagining the worst possible scenarios in his head. But the typical Mr. Malik stood up, smiled and said “It’s okay. It happens.”
A man of his words
SCC has a history of retaining it’s employees for years. The reasons why employees stick or stay are many. One of the greatest legacies of Mr. Malik is that the promises made are always kept. Salaries are always paid on time. If someone leaves, the management ensures that their dues are paid off.
Work ethics and workmanship
The greatest legacy of Mr Malik is the work ethics that have been set in the organisation. Many teams today work on their own, making sure things are delivered. The older established teams work like clockwork often needing very little supervision. They have been trained so well that they are highly motivated and get the job done on their own.
Mr Malik’s legacy over the company is such that it believes in delivering quality over quantity. For e.g A-Z Digest is out of other companies, but in EBC each topic’s digest is out after months and sometimes years of deliberation. Mind you, this is the second edition we are talking about and there is no let-up on quality. The idea is to serve legal academia by producing top notch content. EBC will not produce sub-standard material to achieve more sales. The Mint recognised his work in their 60-in-60 feature – Surendra Malik | He prepared an access system which facilitates discovery of law.
For the editorial teams, it is never about the numbers or how much the sales were, but what is the quality of the product delivered. For the publication department, books might reach the press late, but they will be updated with every single amendment and case laws upto the last date and be the most error free version possible.
When they say work is worship, EBC practices this principle. The hard work put in by its employees is like a prayer to God and a service to the nation by contributing to it’s legal academia. This is the legacy of Mr Malik. He has instilled in the company the values that make people work not just to run their homes but also for a sense of purpose and fulfillment.
[Note: Nilufer Bhateja and Prachi Bhardwaj along with the editorial team has put this story together by combining a handful of the many heartwarming stories shared by the members of the EBC Family.]