Monday, January 04, 2016

Delhi Autorickshaws - Beware, It Is Time You Fell In Line

The average autorickshaw driver in Delhi continues to get away with overcharging or refusal even though over three years have passed since one such misdemeanour cost Jyoti Singh her life in a brutal gang-rape-cum-murder.  And now that the balance of demand and supply has been further tilted by the odd-even formula imposed on private four-wheeler owners by the Delhi Government, the informal surcharge over the metered rate has been informally upped again.  As has, I was told in a whisper by one autowala at Hauz Khas metro station when I challenged him recently, the hafta he pays to the local beat constable for the privilege of being able to stand at the top of the stairs and solicit disembarking metro commuters.

Luckily, I have been experimenting with a few techniques of my own over the past couple of years since I abandoned driving between my residence in South Delhi and my office in Gurgaon and took to the Delhi Metro / Rapid Metro Gurgaon combination instead.

It is time I shared these with you in the hope that you will spread the word.  Three techniques below all seem to work nicely.

1. Before you ask an auto if he will go wherever it is you want to take him, check to see if the On Duty board is up.  If so, just use your cell to click photos of the number plate and - if possible - of the person.  Then ask.  See the difference.

2.  If an auto refuses, wants to go without meter or gets aggressive because you took his photo or for any other reason, walk away and send the complaint by any of these methods - SMS, Phone call, FB Post or Mail.  I have tried all of them and they all seem to work.

3a. If you are in a bind and must succumb to overcharging, politely ask him to switch off his meter (usually they won't even bother to switch it on).  THIS IS IMPORTANT.  When you arrive at your destination, get off and pay him the minimum fare - Rs 25.  He has no proof he deserved more.  Make a racket and attract attention if he protests; I have had a couple of errant drivers slink away when a crowd gathered.

3b. Same as 3a above, except that you make him drop you at a police station or in front of a cop close to the destination you mentioned.  Keep two printouts of this document Delhi Autorickshaw Complaint Template  handy and just fill in the blanks.

Join me in putting an end to this menace.



While I hope in vain for a corruption free world, I think it is not unrealistic to expect a national capital city where autos and taxis run by meter - as they do in India's commercial capital, Mumbai.

Monday, December 31, 2012


Before Jyoti Singh (variously referred to in the media as Damini or Nirbhaya) and the little trust that might have remained in the government are consigned to the dying embers of 2012, I thought I would add a small bit to all that has been said already.

Many eloquent pieces have been written on this aspect that I agree with in totality; here are links to two that struck deep chords:

Instead, let me concentrate on the 1000+-page charge sheet that has been filed today by the Delhi Police. Specifically, on what it does NOT contain – a list of the nameless, faceless people whose crimes of omission and commission aided and abetted the rape and murder that has fired a nation’s anger. And who continue to go unnoticed and unpunished because they are shielded by a political establishment who filibuster landmark legislation opportunities like the Lokpal Bill that could have stripped them of their masks.
• The traffickers of unsafe public transport
• The gatekeepers of unregistered F.I.Rs
• The deliberate diffusers of governance and accountability
• The VERY IMPOTENT POLITICIANS who allocate disproportionate resources to themselves – security protection being just one such example
• The bribe takers – and the bribe givers – who siphon off public funds from rural and urban development and send disenchanted men down the dark alleys of our cities

The list goes on and on; I do not claim that this is by any means exhaustive. But we have to start somewhere.

Let us recognize that each of these five categories of people – all of which include public servants responsible for those elements of governance – play these games for personal benefit and do not think of the outcomes as parts of a whole that can converge to a matter of life and death.

Except that on the 16th of December 2012, they converged. And Jyoti Singh died.

For the next five days, I invite thoughts and suggestions on these five aspects, and will deal with them in subsequent posts.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

CORRUPTION IS TERRORISM – 4: Driven up the wall

In response to the previous post, a friend pointed out in her comment that we often find ourselves in circumstances where paying a bribe (or using an agent or tout, which indirectly means the same thing) comes naturally to us as a means of bypassing inconvenience, if not downright harassment.
Right after I read her comment, another friend mentioned her harrowing experience at the passport office today. The key elements of the theme - long queues, weather-beaten citizens at the mercy of elements while the clerks sit across in air-conditioned cubicles on the other side of the window, complete absence of a clearly written procedure, multiple points to which one must go to complete the job - can be replicated at the Regional Transport Office (RTO), the Delhi Municipal Corporation, The Directorate-General of Foreign Trade... you name it.
The reason for this is simple. The powers-that-be and the minions-that-serve-them WANT citizens to suffer. So that the very thought of going to such a place inspires Terror. So that at least a few -and perhaps more -will fall prey to the expedient offered by the channels of corruption.
A few weeks ago, I went to get my International Driving Permit at the RTO in Sheikh Sarai, new Delhi. There are two access routes to the first floor where applications are to be submitted - one past stinking toilets, the other through a lane where touts accosted me with the offer: "Just 2000 rupees and we will place the permit in your hand within 30 minutes." "And if I go on my own?" I asked. "Then it costs just Rs 500, but it will take you 2-3 hours and you will have to come back in the afternoon to collect the document."
I chose Option B and counted the process steps.
First, get a medical certificate if you have not brought one in the required form. I had already done that beforehand - but I saw several people, including one who was actually one-eyed and one on crutches - walk over to a conveniently located medic within the same complex. The charges? Rs 100.
Next, climb two flights of stairs to a hell-hole where 5 operating windows are cramped in a room barely the size of a government office toilet. Submit the application form, medical certificate and photos. Time taken in the queue - 23 minutes.
Once submitted, they give back the papers. I go back down two flights of stairs and around the building to Window No. 6 where a computer entry is made and a sequence number transcribed on the form. That took just 8 minutes.
Next? Go back up the steps to aforesaid hell-hole upstairs and wait in a line to have your photo taken. This queue had people coming in from another direction - apparently those who had taken the "shortcut" route. Time - 38 minutes, and then I was told to come back after 3 O'Clock. "Till when?" I asked. No later than 4, said the pleasant, polite man at the window, looking as cool as he must have felt in his AC ambiance while I sweltered.
I came back at 3:45PM. Nothing was ready, no one seemed to know what to do next. Someone who appeared to be "in the know" said, "Just wait." Finally, at 4:15, the handful of IDP applicants for the day were marched into the adjacent room for a senior honcho to sign on the issued permit page. He asked the person in front of me for his passport. "Passport?" The applicant - he was probably approaching Senior Citizenship - asked incredulously. "I had brought it in the morning but was told at the time that it wasn't necessary." "Not then, it wasn't," said the officer, "But it is mandatory that I see it before I hand over the IDP. Come back tomorrow." His protests were ignored and the officer turned to me; mercifully, I had what was needed. As I walked out in triumph with my IDP in hand, I saw one of the touts gently tap the dejected older man on his shoulder.
I don't claim to be in a state of fine fitness - but I can still outrun my teenage daughter. Yet, the two trips on a warm day to the Sheikh Sarai RTO had left me physically and mentally drained.
How positively brilliant. There is no overt corruption here. But the dice is stacked against the old, the infirm, the person-in-a-hurry who must return to her or his office to earn a living, the armpit-smell intolerant, the claustrophobic - in short, at least half the people who need to come to this decrepit, disgusting disgrace to so-called Modern India. And the touts are waiting for them. Patiently. Like vultures.
And this was just for an IDP. A regular license - that's another story. The volume of traffic is much more, the systems even smarter. No wonder there are still so many killer drivers on the road.
So what's the solution?
1. Before going to the RTO, plan ahead and read all the fine print on the website if possible, go along with someone who has been there recently and knows the process. Carry a chinese fan and lots of drinking water.
2. Petition your elected representative. Ask him why we cannot have cleaner rooms and waiting areas, well-displayed and rigorously followed procedures, queue management the way one sees at airports, a finally a more rational, citizen-friendly process flow. Insist that agents be legitimized where appropriate, else should not be tolerated at all. Have separate timings and windows for these agents; tax their service charges. Those who can afford to pay in black can also afford to pay in white.
4. Report corruption wherever you see it. We know it exists, but flag it in public forums, grievance sites and to watchdog agencies. I have tried all of these, and patience has paid. Trust me, they grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly small.
5. Don't give up. Spread the word, at the very least.
One Anna against crores worth of corruption. Surely we can throw our weight behind him.

Monday, August 22, 2011

CORRUPTION IS TERRORISM – 3: The multiplier effect of One Anna

It is no longer necessary to state that Corruption is Terrorism. The evidence is out there for all to see in the all-too-frequent obituaries of RTI activists, the indictment by the Lok Ayukta that finally ended the brazen hang-in-there tactics of BS Yeddyurappa in Karnataka, the brutal mauling by cops of a protest group that surrounded the motorcade of Union Lam Minister Salman Khursheed and - needless to say - the ludicrous arrest of Anna Hazare under asinine technicalities on August 16, 2011.
The Corrupt are scared. With good reason.
1. They are in a minority, even though it appears otherwise. The average citizen of India is more a victim of corruption than a perpetrator - though there are as many shades of grey as there are shades of compulsion.
2. Their protection stems from acts of either omission or commission from the top echelons of political and administrative leadership in the country - and such leadership is progressively being held accountable
3. History has shown that when the people of India unite with clarity of purpose, neither Empire or Exchequer have been able to sway them from their path.
So what are the Corrupt doing as they are slowly pushed into a corner?
1. They are casting aspersions on those that seek an effective anti-corruption mechanism. Fact is - those who are truly corrupt would never want such a mechanism.
2. They are raising technical and procedural issues, and pointing to parliamentary procedure. These are the same voices that hardly attend Parliament. The same that offer cash for votes.
3. They are creating Standing Committees that are skilled in the art of dilatory tactics when it comes to effectively prosecuting corruption. Without naming names, let me ask whether each of the Members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee for the Lok Pal Bill the following questions and see what they might answer:
a. Have you - or any immediate family member - ever been convicted or accused in a criminal case? (a YES should ideally disqualify you from being on this Committee)
b. Does the party that you represent have a clear policy on whether or not to offer electoral seats to criminal elements? (a YES would indicate urgent need to see a psychiatrist for episodes of delusion)
c. Have you ever influenced any appointment of a government servant for consideration in cash or kind, or the transfer of an upright government servant who has inconvenienced the corrupt who may have been under your direct or indirect protection? (a NO would be really nice to have - I do believe, perhaps naively, that we still have elected representatives who represent so-called traditional Indian values and ethics)
What Anna Hazare and his followers are seeking is just this: accountability and transparency in governance, and a mechanism to not just punish the corrupt but to put the fear of Allah, Vishnu Bhagwan, Shivji, Waheguru, Ahura Mazda, God or whichever higher power one believes into those who consider taking any corrupt action. I bet that it is not just the 50,000-odd who showed up at Ramlila Ground and India Gate who would like to see this happen, but the billion-plus semi-disenfranchised and largely disenchanted Indian electorate. Therein lies the multiplier effect of One Anna. Taken to its logical conclusion, it is worth many trillions ("lakhs of crores") of rupees that sit as ill-gotten assets in the lands, houses, jewelry and overseas banks of the Corrupt.
The problem is, though, that Terrorists have no religion. This has been said many times over. the Corrupt have no religion, either. Another parallel?
Let me ask this:
Can we petition each elected representative to take a clear stand on whether:
A. They support the Government Lokpal Bill in its current draft
B. They support the Jan Lokpal Bill in its current draft
C. They would like specific contentious clauses (and they must specify which ones and why) in the Govt Lokpal Bill amended along the lines of the Jan Lokpal Bill.
There are no right and wrong answers - but let our elected representatives put it in writing so that the electorate can take an informed decision about them, and their political parties, at the next polls.
And if they refuse to put it in writing, let us assume that their answer is either A - or that they are part of the nameless, faceless Corrupt.
I believe 2% of India gives the remaining 98% a bad name.
But then, perhaps I am an idealist.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

CORRUPTION IS TERRORISM – 2: The Death of Governance

A lot has already been said about the grisly murder of Yashwant Sonawane. Not the least among these is the "condemnation" of the incident by AICC General Secretary Rahul Gandhi.
The tragedy, unfortunately, is not that of Sonawane and his near and dear ones alone. Barely 6 years ago, S Manjunath of Indian Oil Corporation had been similarly killed by the fuel adulteration mafia and his death had sparked similar outrage.
The telling remark about the state of governance in our country came, at the time, from the then Home Minister, Shivraj Patil, who said "Whenever things of this nature happen, we get the information and analyse them and then we give the necessary directions to the state government to act." He took refuge behind the fact that law and order is a state subject to focus on a specific incident in Uttar Pradesh, seeking to divert attention from the generally widespread and well-known adulteration racket that pervades the country. Three things stood out in the remarks:
  • The government waits for things to happen, then analyses them. It does not - it would appear - analyse facts that are already known and act in advance to check the root cause of such crime - in this case, fuel adulteration.
  • The Central government gives directions to the state government. The state governments, it is implied, require such direction - they are incapable of providing the governance in the first place that prevents racketeers from indulging in anti-social activities. Certainly, that appears to be the case in Maharashtra
  • Law and order is a state subject - so the centre washes its hands off the matter. Incidentally, while the Home Ministry can arguably take this position, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas is squarely responsible for creating a framework within which adulteration is prevented - or prosecuted.
This is, you would agree, a ludicrous state of affairs.
Eventually, Manjunath's killers were ostensibly brought to justice, though the prime accused had his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment and others got - or got off with - varying levels of punishment.
After Sonawane's killing, there has been a frenzy of activity and in "a crackdown on the adulteration mafia" some 180-off people have been arrested.
This, regrettably, is lip service. The stench of corruption goes deeper than the 180 people arrested. Way deeper than the lucrative business of adulteration. Far deeper than either the central or state governments - or the honourable AICC General Secretary -would care to admit.
Let us just consider three questions.
- How many detections, detentions, charge-sheets and prosecutions related to fuel adulteration have taken place in the country in the 6 years between the murders of Manjunath and Sonawane?
- Of the convictions, if any, what have the sentences been like?
- What is the maximum punishment prescribed by the law for fuel adulteration?
I guarantee that the answers - whatever they may be - point to three clear failures of governance:
-The issue, extent and culprits are known, but the will to bring them to effective justice does not exist within the executive branch of our government
- The laws are framed in a way that punishments are light, and this is a small price to pay for those who might get caught - who are usually the small fry, anyway
- Amendment of the laws through parliament is difficult because many of our lawmakers might be direct or indirect beneficiaries of the systemic and continuing loot
Who was Mr Shivraj Patil kidding when he said that information had to be got and analyzed? Take a look at this article that appeared in Outlook
It was published in April 2005, SEVEN MONTHS before Manjunath was killed.
Consider another ironical piece of evidence. Oil baron Antim Totla, key accused in the multi-crore naphtha scam that appears to have been forgotten by our lawmakers, law-enforcers AND media, was granted bail on a personal bond of Rs 1 lakh just a couple of days before Manjunath's murder.
Totla had alleged that several leading public figures and relatives of politicians were involved. But that was the last we ever heard of the subject. Or of the outcome.
Until now. After Sonawane's senseless death.
I maintain such corruption is a form of terrorism. It terrorizes the honest civil servant who tries, against odds, to keep his sphere of influence clean. It terrorizes the poor, hapless consumer, who has no recourse against politician-protected thugs and criminals that compel him to operate his vehicles on sub-standard fuel. It terrorizes the RTI activist - who is unprotected when he asks the right - but uncomfortable - questions, and receives stab wounds by way of rewards.
In conclusion, I would like to ask Mr Rahul Gandhi - and our honourable Prime Minister - not necessarily in that order, three questions:
- Can the ruling parties that constitute the UPA - in particular the Congress that is seen to lead the coalition - truthfully file an affidavit stating that his party has no office bearers at any level who are involved - or have been involved - in fuel adulteration?
- Is our government (and here, unequivocally, I mean central government) part of the solution that seeks to settle the issue of corruption - and the terrorism that it equates to - once and for all?
- Or (though I am loath to believe it) is it part of the problem?

Friday, January 21, 2011

CORRUPTION IS TERRORISM – 1: Black Money and the Terror Trail

There are three simple things nearly all middle class Indians can do to strike defining blows against black money, one of the primary cause-and-effect components of the vicious cycle of corruption and terrorism in which we find ourselves.

Why do I equate corruption and terrorism? Because they are two dark faces of the same coin.

Institutionalized corruption, such as we see all around us in India today, arises from one or more of three beliefs that are held by many citizens of our country.

One: That it is all right to break laws.

Two: Even if it were not all right, many others are doing it and getting away with it

Three: Even if one might get caught, the chances that one gets brought to justice are slim or non-existent, depending on whom you know or can influence in the echelons of power. The adage that power corrupts is alive and thriving in the corridors of our elected egocracy.

For every Jessica Lal, may her soul rest in peace, who received delayed but not denied justice, there are, arguably, hundreds if not thousands of unnamed victims whose tales will never be told.

Corruption leads to terrorism in three ways.

One: It creates a largely invisible, insidious pool of black money. This is deployed by those who transact in it towards the most profitable illegal businesses known: armaments, drugs and human trafficking. If in doubt, check out just a few of these news stories on the builder-underworld nexus:

Two: It deprives people of legitimate rights and alienates them from the government and from law enforcement agencies, creating a vacuum which is filled by parallel governments.

And I do not refer to just the situation in the Maoist heartland.

Sometimes, fortuitously, people find their own solutions. But if this is what has to happen, then those who are elected but do not work need to step down and make way for those who are truly building the nation, brick by brick.

But I digress. Let me return to black money. A subject on which much has been written, and some laudable efforts have been made – such as the Prevention of Money Laundering (Amendment) Act, 2009 and consequent tracking systems like Know Your Customer (KYC) and the much-awaited Unique Identification (UID) programme. But much more remains to be done. And much of this needs to be done by citizens – people like you and I – not the government alone.


Because you or I, or one of our near and dear ones, could be the next victim of a terrorist attack – in which we ourselves, albeit unwittingly, played the role of a facilitator.

And how might that be?

For example, we might buy a house and pay a substantial part of the proceeds in cash. To avoid tax. Because that’s’ the way the market operates. Because we want to sell an existing house to buy the new one, and can’t find a buyer to give us a reasonable price on “full cheque payment” basis. This cash finds its way to subversive elements via the aforementioned underworld-builder nexus.

Or consider this. You are about to travel abroad. Turns out your passport is about to expire, and you need a new one. Unfortunately, you changed jobs twice in the past 3 years; as you have not stayed at one place long enough, the police verification process is going to be very cumbersome. Someone tells you they know an agent who can get your passport done for a fee, no questions asked. What percentage of people like you would pay that fee – and how many forgo or defer that foreign trip and follow the correct but cumbersome path? Guess what – each such instance that bypasses the system exploits a loophole of corruption that a terrorist can similarly leverage for a false identity. And who knows which of your family members might be shopping there next time when a bomb goes off at Sarojini Nagar?

Among the simplest forms of petty public corruption are without-bill sales – even at respectable convenience stores, pharmacies and non-branded car repair shops in upmarket localities. The law requires you to insist on a bill and pay the appropriate sales tax or VAT, a sum usually much less than what an evening’s dinner out with friends will cost. This gentle tax evasion, multiplied several thousand times, represents that much less funds available for basics like food, shelter or education for the needy somewhere else in the country. Pushing folks less fortunate than us into desperate straits where they turn into criminals – or into cadre-constituents of insurgent movements.

Thus, there are three things we could pledge as our bit against black money:

One: No black money transactions. Insist on full cheque payments when you sell your house. Or car. Or painting. Or jewellery. Trust me, you will find buyers – and sellers. It might take some patience, and the price may – optically – look less. But there are no hidden costs in blood.

Two: No bribes. Follow the due process of law – and use RTI to the hilt if anyone gets in your way. If you don’t know how, sign up at

Three: Ask for bills whenever at a shop or establishment in an urban or commercial area. If they refuse, note the details of the incident and report it. Sites like can help you.

If you live in Delhi and want to stand up against corruption, join the March Against Corruption on 30th January, 2011. Details are available at

And even if you cannot join, please pass the word around.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Be Angry. Be Very Angry.

The terrorists are back. Innocent people are killed. Heroes are martyred. Politicians mumble platitudes. It feels like this is never going to stop.Not unless we take matters into our collective hands. And that means all Indians, as one. No divisions, no implicit partitions. Nothing that allows loopholes for terrorists to slip through.First, demand accountability. File your RTI applications, petition your elected representatives. Make a nuisance of yourself until you get an answer, even if it be "I don't know" or "Nahin batayenge." Second, use the power of the web. Communiate - thoughts, doubts, questions, ideas. Let's build a consensus on what works.Third, fight corruption. Especially black money and processes that link to black money. That's what funds terrorists - and their accomplices who make our borders and coasts porous, our cities vulnerable, our loved ones defenceless, our brave soldiers martyrs.Fourth, fight discrimination. Stand up and make yourself heard unless you support the new Hitlers who seek to create disunited, disjointed Us and Them sub-Indias, Hindus and Muslims, Domiciled and Inter-state Migrants, Gujjars and Meenas, Haves and Have-nots. The latter become prime targets for terrorist recruitment, and mutual distrust between groups creates grey zones in space and time that militants freely exploit.Finally, vote. Make a choice, even if a sub-optimal one. To fight terrorism, we must first fight corruption, communalism and casteism. Else there will always be loopholes for terrorists to slither through.Empowerment is never given, it is always taken. Someone took our Bombay; we must now take back our India.