Wednesday, July 06, 2011

"Nothing gets done in a goverment office without a bribe"

When I think about government offices, what comes to my mind is an old building painted yellow or pale green with corners stained by chewed paan, unmarked corridors and doors that confuse one to the point of giving up, a lingering "What is the procedure?" question hanging over head that lead us right at the feet of blood-sucking middlemen who get the job done at a non-negotiable and usurious charges and a job that never gets done without bribe. In short, corruption and painfully long waiting time characterizes my perception of any government office that common man deals. No exceptions..

Or so I thought till today. Last Monday, I had to go to the Regional Transport Office at Krishnarajapuram, Bangalore to get what is called a "B-Extract". In short, it can be considered as a "duplicate" of the Registration Certificate. You can't show it as an RC to the traffic policeman when he leans over your window and asks in a stylish accent, "License and Registration please". But it sure can be used by your bank as a proof that it has provided loan towards the purchase of your car.

When I went to the RTO, a familiar scene greeted me. Pale green building. Middlemen chewing pan sizing you up as you approach the building. Even as I approached the building, one guy approached and within no time made me cough up my purpose at the RTO. He said, "Oh B-extract? It won't be available today. I will take a couple of days! But if you want to get it today, I can arrange it for you.". I politely declined the offer and proceeded inside the RTO. But as I went over to an unmarked counter, I couldn't help but wonder if just closed the only possible way to the B-extract that I am after. But the guy behind the counter, directed me to another guy who I should contact. That guy asked me to write a request letter and give it to another guy who looked like an officer. The "officer" held out his hand for the letter, but didn't even care to look at me. When I handed the letter, he considered it, wrote "B-extract. Rs. 10" and gave it back to me and told "Cash counter. Ground floor. Pay Rs. 10/- and register with that lady in yellow colour saree over there" and held out his hand for the next letter from the guy standing behind me. This is the tricky part. When a guy sitting behind the counter starts taking of money, he won't say "Actual charge Rs. 10, Bribe Rs. 50, totals to 60. Pay Rs.10 at the cash counter and give the 50 to the peon standing over there". Instead, there would be subtle gestures and I have to be smart enough put together the pieces and solve the puzzle. Or so I have heard from those who have got things done. But I couldn't see anything here.

I started picturing in my mind, going to the cash counter, holding out a 10 rupee note and this letter. I was certain that he would put a pissed off expression and hand the letter back saying "Come back 10 days later, the printer isn't working. So I can't give the receipt for this TEN rupees you have paid". With visible hesitation I approached the cash counter and held out the letter and the ten rupees and braced for the response I didn't want to hear. He printed out the receipt and handed it throwing a weird look at me in the eye. I didn't know if I am supposed to read something from his looks or not. But I just collected the receipt and walked to the "lady in the yellow saree".

She took my letter and reluctantly entered my car number and "B-extract" in a bulky register and said "Please come back on Wednesday after 4:00 PM" and held her hand out for the next letter to the guy standing next to me. No gestures here too! I asked "Can't I have it today?" trying to keep her attention with me. But she said. "It will take two days. Come back on Wednesday and just tell us your car number and we will give you the B-extract." She looked away and yelled "Next!"

I turned and walked back confused. Did miss any gesture suggesting "Pay extra and we can arrange the document right away"? May be they would hold the document to ransom when I come back on Wednesday. But when I went back today (Wednesday), she asked for the number and within minutes a clerk walked up to me shoved the B-extract into my hands and disappeared before I could even register his face. The document was on a poor quality paper and printed poorly. But what the hell! I pay ten rupees and walked away with what I wanted!

I must say, I have a new respect for at least this RTO in KR puram. I do realize that there is some falsehood in our perception that "All government offices are corrupt" and "Nothing gets done in a government office if you don't pay under the table". I write this post as a token of appreciation and expression of my thankfulness to the "officer" who didn't care, the "guy who gave me a weird look" behind the cash counter, the "lady in yellow saree" (today she was wearing rose, but...) and the "clerk" whose face I couldn't register for a job done without expecting a bribe.