I had set out this morning, in peace and calmness, to write bad things about my mother. It was going so well that I felt, perhaps I should actually turn it into a novel. And for people who know what a novel is, you will know that it is impossible to write it in those 45 minutes you have till your 2 year old child wakes up from the last leg of her night long short naps. So I decided to take a break. I thought I would resume writing badly about my mother once I am done with my day and the 2 year old resumes nightly naps.
But I made a mistake. I went to two Guwahati Municipal Corporation offices. Yes, you heard me right. TWO. And all you will get is this raving rant about the system once more.
For reasons inexplicable logically and logistically, I have started two businesses at the same time. Both of these are things I have dreamt about doing forever – a small coffee shop and a small shop that sell all kinds of cool non-mainstream, environment and socially conscious products. For everything else this is like dream come true. But when dreams need licenses, it does not take long to turn into nightmares.
It took me 4 months, at least 12 visits to the GMC office in Fancy Bazar, to get a trade license for the coffee shop. We had all papers in place. But I refused to pay bribe or ask my relative who is a relatively big boss at GMC for help. You see one of the bad things my parents gave me is this nearly self-destructive trait to be honest and demand honesty. Till now, I had never paid bribe and I do not call people I know in high places to get things done. The guys kept on sending me back asking for a different paper each time I went and then their boss was not there to sign it and then the clerk’s daughter was getting married. In the end I paid the bribe and had to ask the relative for help.
This is not the happy ending still. The trade license I applied for in the month of October, I received in late February. It was valid till end of March. A bank loan I have been asking for had to wait for the trade license. In March I could not get the bank loan as they were closing the financial year. In April, I had to apply for a fresh bank loan which required a fresh trade license. So I am back at GMC, Fancy Bazar office again!
The GMC, Fancy Bazar office, by the way, is the office for registering life, death and health. Which means all food related businesses have to register here. If you see the building from a distance, you will fall sick. If you enter it without having a health insurance, be sure some of your bank balance is going to be transferred to a medical company very soon. It has not seen a coat of paint since India got independence; it is stained with the red spittle that is the symbol of our culture and heritage. It is dark, dingy and smelly.
So, I am back at this smelly hole of meanness and money grabbing in less than 6 weeks of making those 12 trips to get a license. Today, was my third trip. In the first trip I was given a form and list of documents which included a certificate that says I dispose my garbage to the bin, whose original they kept the last time. That certificate is valid till October this year. But they tell me I have to get the same certificate again. From GMC. The second time I went with all the papers, they told me the process of issuing trade license is temporarily on hold. I need to come back after 27th April. Each time, I wait at their office for hours, for the concerned official, sometimes for him to arrive at office, sometimes to finish chatting with his colleague, sometimes to finish his tea, sometimes to eat his lunch, to take a toilet break and mostly for him to kindly look up from his file he is pretending to work on and answer my questions.
Today, after waiting for two hours till 11.50am, I asked the lone guy who seemed to be doing his job, when the other people are going to come. He said he does not know anything as that is a separate section although they sit in the same room. In the end, I extracted it from a peon and another person who seemed a regular like me at the GMC office that the process of issuing license is still on hold. The government will be moving this license issuing business to the zonal offices. An official order about this has not been passed, but till the order is passed there will be no work.
Wait! I told you I visited two GMC offices! The other one is on Zoo Road. The Zonal Office! I have to go to this office to get a trade license for the store. Today was my third time in this office too. First time I went with all the papers and a form I had downloaded from their website. The website clearly said this is the form I need to submit. The official told me - no, the downloaded form won’t work. So he gave me the same form which was printed in a different font size and told me I have to come back the next day. The next day, I waited for half an hour near his table watching him negotiate his bribe with one after another party. He ignored me completely while I waited patiently for him to acknowledge my presence and take the form from me. He did this with utmost disdain towards me once he had no more bribe to take. He told me, leave the form here, we will be going to inspect your place and then only we will give you a license. I ask him, how long will that take? He tells me he cannot tell me that. I asked him for some acknowledgement that I have submitted the form, a number where I can follow up. He throws back the bunch of paper at me and tells me – make photocopies of all the papers and bring them back tomorrow. I will sign one copy and give them to you. So, I called my relative again. I was told to meet with the head in that office directly. Today I went there for the third time, walked in proudly ignoring the previous guy’s table, into the bosses chamber. I mentioned my relative’s name. I was given a chair, offered water and told I will receive the license day after.
I called my mother to share this good news. She said, I told you earlier, you should have called so-and-so. This is why I have no faith on my mother. All my life she has told me I must get things done on my own. I must not use the power of others specially relatives to get things done etc etc. My mother has been ruining my moments all my life. I keep that for later.
It is amazing, how this felt like a victory. It is amazing, the level of tolerance we have for dishonesty, disrespect and inefficiency in this country. Every person I have met and told my story to have told me one thing – just pay some money and it will get done. All the people I have seen in these offices seem to have no issues with this. No one seems to be angry that till 11.45 am eighty percent of office has not reached office. When you are in government offices, there is no information counter. In a place like GMC which issue innumerable licenses and papers to people, there is no counter to collect and submit forms. There is no counter to take payment. People have to go and stand around tables, pleading to the clerks. There is no time limit to how much time issuing of a license should take. There is no sign saying how much the fees for each of these licenses are. Things so far have been kept deliberately inefficient, so that the officials can take public for a ride. No, I am not going to say ‘poriborton’ sarcastically here. That does not serve my purpose. It is the Congress which allowed this to happen and carry on in the first place. BJP came into power with the promise of change all of this. Little changes have come in the past three years. It has made provisions for single window clearance for large business projects that will have huge impacts on the environment and land. But no, it cannot put a single window to receive forms, take payment and issue licenses to small business. It is clear that political parties and the government do not care about people. And it is clear the people are okay with it.