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.