Monday, February 23, 2009
Our Democracy: A perspective
A writeup, sent by one of the readers of the blog, B Shankar
Today, as we all proudly say our country is one of the biggest democracies in the world. We are second to none when it comes to boasting about our country, democracy, the freedom we all enjoy and so on. The list is endless. However, ask anybody about the condition of our democracy, and the only answer we get is a deep sigh!. Everyone knows that the most prominent ills of our democracy like the rampant corruption, dishonesty, voter enticement etc makes one think where all this is leading us.
We all should not forget that this system is "of the people, for the people, by the people". So, in theory it is just as good as the people who elect it. So, when we point fingers on all the ills, in some ways we are pointing fingers at ourselves. All those who are members of the so called system are at the end of the day, just one of us. So, probably there is something lacking within us.
A democracy is an evolving entity. No amount of enforcement and policing can fix it. At the end it is the people who will bring about a change in the system. Until then the churning will continue. It is only when we are fed up with the corruption, fed up with the bribes we get for our votes we stand to revolt. All the well functioning democracies of the world that we see today like the USA or other western countries are still evolving even after hundreds of years of experimenting and reforming their system. If you go back in history say 10-150 years, we can see the same ills even in those system that we so hate here!. After so much churning, today they are where they are and going by that example our 60 year old democracy is still very much in its infancy!
Having grown all my adult life trying to understand and cope with our system, recently I had a chance to visit the oldest democracy in the world that is the USA . Invariably I was very curious to find out the good and the bad in their system. After almost 300 years of refining, I was really impressed by the system that is working so smoothly there. It is very surprising for them see the heavy deployment of troops here for the elections or the daily dose of corruptions that they hear. It was very difficult for me to explain why we have phased elections out here or the seizure of sarees, liquor etc during elections.
One thing I have observed was that for effective functioning of the system, there are few very basic ingredients such as deterrent rules/laws, effective implementation, honesty and personal responsibility. Not that there are no ills in that system. But how those ills are tackled should be an example. I was very surprised to see that a city official was imprisoned for 24 years in prison for taking a bribe of $3000 and the sentence was pronounced within 3 months of the crime. How many officials and politicians have seen in our country goto prison for corruption in the last 60 years? I don't remember even one case!
Secondly, the system is designed in such a way that for the common folks, it is so easy to get their things done without any hindrance. Be it getting some certificates or a driver license, it is a no nonsense approach that caught my eyes. My friend happened to sell his car while I was there and I was very curious to see the whole process work!. First of all there are clear cut instructions that need to done for transferring the registration? As a first step, he had to get the vehicle inspection and emission test. Just drive to a designated test area, show your documents and you get the report in 10 min. Secondly, go to the DMV(Dept of Motor Vehicle) equivalent to our RTO here, show the necessary documents and the whole thing is done in 20 minutes straight. No hassle, no going round the tables nothing. Just one counter, one person. Everything is so straight forward that there is no scope for any confusion at any point. Corruption - Forget it.
That’s not to say that there is no corruption here. Like everywhere else there is some degree of corruption here. However that is probably at the higher level. Common people are not affected. Also the retributions are really great. Nobody is spared if caught and punishment is swift. That really gives a sense of everybody is one when it comes to implementation of the law. Lastly, one thing that impressed me a lot was the personal integrity of the people here. Since my friend had recently had got very high speed internet, I joked to his son that now he can download music and movies much faster from the internet. Pat came the reply: How can I download when I have not purchased the CD. Isn't that wrong. I was dumb founded. I simply had no answer for that. I was just wondering how many of us back home will think in that lines.
The experience I had in US made me think of the infancy that we are still in here. To cap that all, recently I had a very good chance to compare the system here with the experience I just had in US!
I wanted to sell my 7 year old Hero Honda and I wanted to find out how easy it is or difficult to go through that. So, after I found a suitable buyer, the next step was to transfer the registration. I wanted to do this without paying single rupee as bribe. Not that I can't but I wanted to find out Can I?
So as a first step, I had to get a NOC from the Shimoga RTO since I still had the registration from that office. It is a 5 hour drive from Mangalore and I went to the local office in Shimoga. When I enquired about getting NOC, the concerned clerk first learnt that I was from out of station. Then he started by saying that getting an NOC is a very cumbersome task and that he had to get signatures from 3 officials. His time estimate was 4-5 days to get that done. He was very aware that I did not have a luxury of waiting 3-4 days at Shimoga. His intension was to get some bribe for getting the job done the same day. As determined as I was not to give any money, I asked is there any way to get NOC the same day and his reply was an emphatic "NO" and that it would cost something to get things done the same day. Remember, all that is required is that they find my file, get it signed by 3 officers (who were all in the office that day). When I was convinced that I cannot get NOC that day without paying the bribe, I had to invoke my friendship to a very prominent personality ( as much as I hated to do that, I had no other way). Walla! Believe it or not, I had my NOC within 10 min. The very clerk who was so dillydallying to the file was in hyperactive once he heard me invoking my friendship. What it demonstrates is that the system can deliver very efficiently if there is a will! Think of the hardship of the poor village folks who neither have the time to wait nor know somebody to invoke when required!
Having obtained my NOC, I came back to my city and the next job was to get the registration transferred to the buyer. Again I was determined to get this done without paying bribe. I was told that was next to impossible. Just as I entered my local RTO, I was greeted by scores of so called brokers. I think they are the unofficial representatives of the officials inside!. When I just enquired with one of the broker, he said it would take a month if I alone. He can get it done the same day but I would have to cough up Rs 1000.
When I entered in, I first checked with a clerk who was supposed to give out information. Again his response was not clear and it was clear that he wanted me to take the broker route. So I decided to directly talk to the RTO and so I did. I asked him about what is involved in getting my registration transferred. He said that I have a pay a fees of Rs 35, submit an application along with RTC documents, safety inspection report and the Rs 35 fee receipt. Armed with this information, I paid the fees and again went to the clerk with all the documents. Again, the clerk was very evasive and said that it might take 4-5 days for the application to be processed. When I asked for the reason, he said that it would take that much time to get everybody's (3 official's) signature! I am still not sure why they need so many officers to sign that! I asked the clerk about the officials whose signature was required and their room numbers. Next I myself took all the papers to each of these officials and took their signature myself and at last I had my registration transferred the same day without paying any bribe. Albeit, it took 3 hours for me to get everything done and one more thing: that is the right amount of time they have to take to get the registration done.
Now, how many of us have that kind of patience and even the time for doing it ourselves standing in the queue? Most of us will take the easy way out: that is hiring a broker paying 1000 when the actual fee was 35! That makes even the clerks to channel people to these brokers. As long as there is bribe givers, there will be bribe takers!!
I think the change should start with us. If we arm ourselves with the information and then spend time getting things done the right way, the system will start working the way it should work! No short cuts. Just follow the rules. Initially, it might be difficult. There will be lot of people resisting it. However, when we demand service, they will turn around. After all remember we pay their salaries and they are there to do our work! Let’s all demand that service but in the right way, no short cuts, no jumping lines. Only then at least our next generation can witness the service they deserve!
(this writeup was sent in the form of a comment)