Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Chronicles of a Govt. Office (Part 1)

If you are feeling too relieved or relaxed in life and the world seems serene to you, just visit your nearest govt office to suffer instant disillusionment. This highly cynical statement is coming from a backdrop of series of disappointments while I continue to visit several govt offices. In this post let me discuss one such experience.

Location: Alipore Regional Transport Office (RTO)
Occasion: Getting an NOC from the office on my driving license. NOC is required when one wishes to change the address of his driving license.
Timeline: 16 days
Characters Involved: The applicant (me), the person at the cash counter (Mr. C), the person at the requisition receipt counter (Mr. R), the Additional Officer (Mr. A), two persons at unknown counters (Mr. U1 and Mr. U2), a middleman (Mr. M), a person over the counter giving referral to the middleman (Mr. R), and finally the person who distributes the NOC (Mr. D).

Common scene at a govt. office (pic courtesy : The Hindu)

Day 1

11.00 am

On April 7th I visited the RTO, guided by Google Map. I reached the office at 11.00 am. I was completely clueless as to what needed to be done as there was no clear directive even in internet. So, I started asking people. First it took me half an hour to figure out where to ask about the NOC. Anyway after roaming and rushing like a clueless fly and asking few security guards, I zeroed in on a counter. Now, I asked Mr. U1 (who was sitting over the counter) that I needed to change the address of my driving license. He directed me to an empty counter. After standing there for half an hour, I returned to observe that Mr. U1 was still leisurely sitting on his chair and eating bhujias (a snack). I asked him again and got directed to a different counter now with a never ending line queuing in front of me. Realizing that it was going nowhere I asked a second person (Mr. U2) for assistance. He directed me to Mr. R who was surprisingly the correct person (discovered later) to do the task!

Anyway, elated by my astounding luck of finding the required person just within an hour, I stood in the line in front of the counter presided by Mr. R. After one hour when finally my turn came, Mr. R told me to go to Mr. C and ask about the same. However, he did not tell anything about what else I needed to do.

1.00 pm

In the meantime one person (Mr. M), dubious in nature, came to me and asked what was my requirement. He identified himself as a person working in that office. I explicitly asked it to confirm that I was not dealing with a middleman. Anyways failing to discover his real identity, I started following his instructions, bought a form, gave him my document photocopies. Then suddenly when he stood in the queue I asked him again whether he was a middleman or not and also informed him that I would give him no extra money for doing this in lieu of me. He said that he would charge Rs 550/- for the task. I was dumbstruck, because the task required only Rs 50/- as I had seen in the internet. So, without a second thought, I did write him off and asked another person over the counter (Mr. R) as to what needed to be done.

To my surprise, Mr. R referred me back to the middleman (Mr. M). Anyways with an ignorant reaction to the referral I marched to the counter presided by Mr. C (As Mr. R told me to go to Mr. C before I met the middleman). With the unscrupulous skeleton of govt. office getting revealed in front of me unabashedly, I stood there in the long queue for nearly an hour. In the meantime the printer went dysfunctional, and feeling curious I asked Mr C whether he was the right person to attend my task. He denied it outright and directed me to Mr. R again. Fuming in the heat of 40 degrees outside and covered in my sweat I went to Mr. R and told him about the crisscross incident in a determined voice with a tone asking for an explanation. He seemed on a back-foot and told me to get a receipt from Mr. C first and then submit it to him later.

2.00 pm

However they never mentioned anything about getting a signature from the ARTO. I came to know about that when the middleman Mr. M was handling my things. So, I went directly to the ARTO, got it approved and then went with that to Mr C directly. There was a huge line. The representatives of local driving schools crowded the place with their pile of application . The pile never got over because they kept pushing new application at the end of the pile and it seemed impossible for me to get any receipt from that place on that day. Suddenly the rebel inside me broke out. It was obvious that the man at the counter has some financial understandings with the driving schools. So, I shouted how can a normal citizen like me get his work done at that situation. He seemed concerned (!) and asked my application and I got my receipt 15 mins later. There were other people like me, manhandled by the driving school-Mr. C coalition. They also started shouting their case. I looked at the clock. It was already 3.00 pm.

3.00 pm

With the receipt in my hand as a certificate of achievement, I went to Mr. R. There was a huge line! Anyways I submitted my receipt after squabbling and haggling the crowd for good 45 mins. Feeling satisfied at the progress at the end, I waited only to be told later that the distribution would start at 5 pm. So, I roamed outside for almost 1.5 hours while the heat wave continued ruthlessly outside the streets of Kolkata.

5.00 pm

I returned to the office at 5 pm as was told to me and I stood in the queue. A different person Mr. D was in charge of the task. I showed him my receipt and asked whether the paper they would give me can be used as an NOC from this office. He nodded positively! Anyways the distribution started at 5.45 pm finally. All the driving school representatives got their documents with a payment of Rs. 50/- per copy. A notable thing here was, the distribution was supposed to be free of cost. The extra Rs. 50/- paid to Mr D was less popularly known as the kharchapani (bribe) in this part of the continent. When finally my turn came, I gave my receipt to him, and he told me to come back after 3-4 days.

I was silent, angry, disappointed, exhausted and the only thoughts that came in my mind was why did he not tell this to me before. He kept me waiting for a full 2.5 hours in spite of knowing that my task would not be completed in a day. How could an outsider, a common citizen know of this if they didn't display a charter or at least informed the Samaritan when should he/she come. Anyway, at the end I returned from the office silently only to face greater disappointments the next day I visited the office again.

(to be continued...)
Link to Part 2 of this article