Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Bad State of the State

By Rahul V.Kumar*


As I understood from a recent experience our system requires that we remain closer (in time) with the state and yet we should remain far (physically) from its reach. Now the question is “How do we make the state believe that we are both close and yet far from its reach?” This is a subtle balance but still it is one that remains strong. Let me brief you on an issue to make it clear what I have in my mind. Last week I was at the corporation office to apply for a residence certificate. Since it is a government office, there is a clause attached to all, ‘be clear on what the procedures are before you actually go for the transaction’. (The people at various counters are so specialized that they are mostly unaware of the general procedures. Has specialization increased their productivity? This is debatable.) The reason is if you don’t know for instance that living in a rented house would want you 1) to carry a certificate from your ward councillor to prove who you are/or that he knows you do exist 2) your rent agreement 3) and finally the form which you have to fill which is obtained from the corporation office itself; the chances are that your transaction cost of commuting to and from the office would increase. So the minimum that a layman needs to spend is a few phone calls (if he is connected) or a one time travel to the office to enquire about the procedures. In case you are connected less (no phone, internet etc.) and stay far from the office, these costs are likely to be higher.

Let the transaction cost be left aside for those who say that it is pittance. But the actual cost is hidden; this is the cost of making the state believe that we are close and yet far. When I say making the state believe that we are close, what I mean is the trouble and toil to make our claims as a citizens. Now equipped with the councillor’s certificate you reach the office. But there you need additional verifications plus a mandatory visit by someone called the ‘revenue inspector’ to check these claims. 

At three stages you prove your status. Now if that sounds easy, for a first timer, it is not so. There are other paraphernalia attached, for instance ‘your luck’ to find the inspector from amidst the sea of people flooding this office;knowing the right manner of conducting with him/her pleasing them and seeing to it that there ego is not hurt; witnessing the horrendous trails of your co-citizens who have come to this office for much more inaccessible privileges and so on. To stay far from the state is easier. Nod your head for whatever comments you receive at these offices. If the revenue inspector jests at you for not knowing the procedures (for instance the order in which these forms should be tied up for submitting), accept it with a fake smile. Understand that these tussles might end up in his request for a premium to get the work done. And of course don’t claim knowledge of any of these procedures as it is more likely that new hurdles will be put in front of you. Amidst all this what you are intentionally doing is saving your physical self from having any affinities with the state. Thus when a procedure could have been completed with one proof, three are demanded. When the person at the counter should have informed you that you are at the wrong place, you take an entire day roaming the jungle to find that out. Are these to be expected or are we expecting too much from the state?

PS: I lost an entire productive day roaming around to find the procedures and being insulted from all these people for not knowing many. Then it struck me that the state likes more of its kind. A few phone calls (god’s grace I am connected) and within 15 minutes the next day, I found myself with three residents certificates. 

* Rahul V.Kumar is a Research Fellow and Consultant at CPPR

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