The govt doesn’t want my money
India’s notorious bureaucracy is alive and kicking
I have an empty plot of land in a prime residential area in south India. It’s been lying idle because it’s just too much of a headache to get necessary permissions to build stuff in India. But with Covid running amok, I had time on my hands and decided to do something about the place.
First things, first. I needed an electricity connection. The local Electricity Board office asked me to submit a ‘possession certificate’ that proved I was entitled to the land. This has to be obtained from the local village office, and will only be given to the landowner. No possibility of passing the buck.
The next morning, I went to the village office. There was a long queue, and it took two hours to get to the counter, which was nothing but a window with old receipts dangling all over the place.
As soon as I mentioned ‘possession certificate,’ the officer ordered me to come back after ten days. It seems all the staff except that one guy at the counter had been quarantined at home because the village officer had come down with Covid. This sole surviving chappie had been on leave when Covid hit, and he didn’t think ‘possession certificates’ merited his time.
Ten days later, I returned and stood in the queue again, but only for an hour this time. Looks like some of the quarantined folk had returned.
Anyway, the official finally accepts my application. He then tells me to come back after a week. I begin to protest but am peremptorily waved off.
A week later, it’s back in the queue. The official says, “It’s being done,” and asks me to wait.
I have no desire to come back one more time. So I go park myself outside the office door.
I keep a sharp eye to check if anyone is bribing to make things happen. Endless queues are a torture that’s designed to make ethics evaporate. No luck. No one is even allowed inside the building because of Covid. You wait outside and sweat in the hot sun, or soak if it’s raining. I wait and do both.
Every now and then, the official opens the door. But he ignores me and checks up on the other waiting citizens. I wait patiently. Finally, two hours later, he grudgingly acknowledges me and asks what I’m waiting for. I patiently explain and he says has to search for my application. But he warns me he may not find it as there is a huge backlog of pending applications. I gratefully nod my head, knowing very well that if I so much as frown, then that application of mine will be permanently ‘lost.’
An hour later, he abruptly pops out of the door, thrusts the certificate in my hand, and disappears back in.
I totter off, tired but victorious. Two days later, the lights came on.
Things have changed in India, but not too much. Like I was able to pay my mother’s ‘house tax’ online. But ‘land tax’ was another question. You got to go pay it in person at the feared Village Office. It seems they need to check if she is the owner of the house and a whole lot of other esoteric stuff which I couldn’t even comprehend.
What boggles my mind was why what applied to ‘house tax’ does not also apply to the ‘land tax’ for the same house. Why not let us pay online?
The government moves in mysterious ways, its wonders to perform.
As it turned out, I couldn’t pay the ‘land tax.’ My mother’s house was still in my late father’s name, and they need her to personally go there with a whole lot of documents to prove the house is now in her name. My mother listened to my report and decided to postpone payment till next year.
Mind you, I’m trying to give money to a broke government.