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On the other side of a common man’s table

By Sushmita Dutta | Last Updated: Sunday, January 25, 2009 - 16:28
Sushmita Dutta
Sushi's Musings

An out-of-line incident, which rarely happens in India, got me thinking. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited the RTO office in Delhi to get his driving licence renewed – an act unexpected from a person of his stature. Everyone praised the gesture, but it ignited a trail of thoughts, different from what people were saying. It began with the thought of a common man sitting on the other side of the table at the RTO, instead of the PM.

Can a common man go to a government office on a Sunday and get it opened, and get his work done? The PM can visit the RTO on an off day and can get his licence renewed- a gesture to be appreciated, but to expect that the common man should take a lesson and try to do the same would not be correct.

After gaining Independence, the common man had imagined a better bureaucratic and political set-up, but corruption crept in and since then no one has clue about how it can be swept out. It was never easy for the common man to survive the red tape. Our Prime Minister can go anywhere and everywhere at any time, but the common man can never think of doing the same.

Is it easy to get a licence or any other government document without a bribe or through a ‘dalal’? The answer is a big ‘-NO-‘. I am speaking out of my personal experience. I needed a driving licence, after I decided to buy a car. So I went to the local transport office and diligently followed all the prescribed paper formalities. But at the end, after struggling for a month, I had to give up.

When I approached the authorities, I found that there were many other frustrated people like me trying to understand the procedure of getting a licence and then trying to follow it.

Since, it was a chilly morning everyone on the other side of enquiry counter (read Babus) was busy enjoying hot tea, and was least bothered about the long queue.

Meanwhile, as I was waiting, I saw a few people, a few steps away from me, sitting with sheets of paper scattered on the table in front of them. Curious, I went to enquire. I got the impression that they may be able to get my work done, of course, by charging some money.

I was right! Some people were already trying to negotiate with a person, who sat there pompously. He looked something like a middleman. His mobile was ringing incessantly, a bunch of forms were kept at the corner of his table, and he was holding an expensive pen. The most interesting part was that even he had an assistant!

So, I finally understood the mystery behind the long queue at the enquiry and why the officials were indifferent to their work. I got the message - approach ‘dalals’, spend money and take home a driving licence. I understood the fact that whatever you do, the system has been so deeply rigged, that a common man will never get simple things done like applying for a driving licence in a simple and a straightforward manner. I had to put my anger aside, and was forced to follow their pattern just as everyone else was doing.

Deed done, I grew contemplative. I thought that I live in an independent country, where I have all kinds of freedom and facilities. But even to get a small thing done, I had to spend several times more than what it takes legally. It is said that not only the murderer, but also the accomplice partakes in the crime. I had become a part of the corrupt system after getting my licence. But this is the way, it works in this country. You can raise your voice against the system every time you get harassed, and just keep at it, but with no results. Or you can fall in line with everyone else and accept it as a part of life.

There are many formalities and obligations to be followed, if we want to get an official document – verifications, attestations, signatures of authorised people and so on. But now the question I want to pose as a part of the common crowd- can there be a way where, like our PM, we can simply go to a government office and get our work done in a straightforward and easy manner, just as if it were a regular procedure? Oh! And I forgot to add, on a working day? Let’s not talk about Sundays, it would be almost laughable.

The Prime Minister can get access to any office, on any day, but the common man cannot. Okay, given his stature, he deserves this much. But, is the gap between the PM and the man on the street, so wide that they have to pay and get harassed for their rights? We appreciate the gesture of the PM visiting the RTO, but what about the problems of the common man.

With due respect to our PM, I would like to put across a question to him – If you can go to RTO and get your licence renewed easily, can’t you ensure a similar process that can make life easier for your citizens also?

The common man can be happy only when his life gets a little bit better, and he does not have to struggle for every small thing in life.

First Published: Sunday, January 25, 2009 - 16:28

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