If You Are an Indian Bureaucrat

Rubber stamps

I imagine that if you are an Indian bureaucrat, you live and breathe red tape. Procedural formalities pulse through your veins, and you possess an innate drive to complete mindless paperwork. You do not understand the lives of normal human beings outside your office. You assume that everyone shares your encyclopedic knowledge of trivial rules and regulations, and when dealing with people who do not understand, you treat them as if they are mentally disabled.  Efficiency is anathema to you, threatening your employment and your very purpose in life. You rigidly impose a snarl of convoluted guidelines without any regard for the logic—or lack of logic—behind them.  And you are probably, in one way or another, corrupt.

Maybe you work at the Jodhpur Post Office, where you require all packages to be wrapped in cloth, sewn by hand, and sealed with hot wax. You do not offer this service yourself but instead leave it to local shopkeepers, who charge more than it costs to actually ship the package. While you should realize that the invention of packing tape made this method obsolete decades ago, you seem to be stuck in the mindset of the British officials who left in 1947.

Or maybe you work at the Jodhpur Criminal Investigation Department, where foreigners in Jodhpur must register if their visas last 180 days or longer. You know that these visas make no mention of the CID, instead directing foreigners to a place called the Foreigner Regional Registration Office, which does not exist in Jodhpur, but you expect that responsible foreigners will ask a police officer or another knowledgeable citizen to explain the proper procedure. You would not dare make the information easily accessible online, as that would betray your undying loyalty to paperwork and unnecessary complications.

Your office is a non-descript sandstone building in the decrepit Rajasthan High Court, with no markings whatsoever labeling it as the CID. You expect people to wander the premises for 20 minutes and then ask strangers for directions. When a confused foreigner finally stumbles into your office three days after the 14-day registration limit, you not only charge him a non-negotiable $30 USD fine, but also you chastise him for failing to come earlier. Five months later, when he brings another foreigner a full day before the limit, you chastise her as well, asking why she did not come on one of the previous 13 days. If you are an Indian bureaucrat, you believe that people who have just arrived in a foreign country have nothing better to do than enmesh themselves in your beloved bureaucratic entanglements.


The CID office, obviously.

After your lecture, you drag the foreigners through a tedious registration process. You instruct them to get a sheet stamped at an empty office, and when they return to tell you that the office was empty, you shrug and forget that the stamp was ever important. You painstakingly copy their passport information into a computer and make frequent spelling errors, even though the correct spellings are written right in front of you. Then you slowly fix each mistake as the foreigners peer over your shoulder and correct you, silently lamenting that they could do the same task themselves in just a few minutes. When you have finished entering the information, you demand that the foreigners produce six passport-sized photographs, more than they have ever needed for anything in their home countries. The foreigners may tell you that they already needed a passport photograph to get an Indian SIM card and that they are beginning to wonder if anything in India can be accomplished without this small square image. But if you are an Indian bureaucrat, you do not care about these concerns. You just want the photos.

Throughout the process, you interrogate the foreigners about their reasons for coming to India. You may be concerned that they are Pakistani terrorists, even though they clearly have no connection to any entity that wishes India harm. Still, you plan to visit the address they have provided to confirm that they are in fact living in Jodhpur.  When you show up several days later, you are dismayed to find that the foreigners are not home. You are apparently surprised that people who have come to your country on employment visas would spend the day at work. You leave a message instructing them to remain at home the following Sunday, when you will visit at an undetermined time. You do not acknowledge that this basically amounts to house arrest. Then, when Sunday arrives, you call the foreigners to cancel your visit, and you ask if they can get your brother a job at their NGO, leading the foreigners to suspect this request was your only reason for visiting at all.

The Rajasthan High Court

The Rajasthan High Court

If you are an Indian bureaucrat, you are no stranger to corruption. In 2011, you most likely contributed to your country’s embarrassing world ranking of 95th in perceived transparency, as determined by Transparency International. Or maybe you work for the police, and you helped inspire 88% of people to judge your sector corrupt in a 2005 poll by that same organization. You may even have received money from one of the eight in ten respondents who dealt with your department and paid a bribe. Even in rural areas, among the poorest of the poor, you often siphon money into your own pockets. Maybe you administer the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, which assures 100 days of paid work to any rural laborer. Your initiative costs over 400 billion rupees ($8 billion) per year but more than half of the projects you have undertaken since 2006 remain uncompleted. By some estimates, two thirds of your funds do not get where they need to go. They probably go to you.

When an American blogger deals with your ridiculous and wasteful system, he considers the raging debate in his own country about the size of government. You show him the worst elements of big government, and you convince him that the Tea Party isn’t quite as crazy as he once thought. You make him more wary of government spending. But you also make him glad that at most levels, his government institutions work. You make him glad that he has never been so frustrated working with his own government, even at the DMV. If you are an Indian bureaucrat, you get a confounded foreigner to appreciate that his home country has very few people like you.

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4 thoughts on “If You Are an Indian Bureaucrat

  1. David F

    Oh my. Oh my. This sounds like an absolute nightmare. A holiday present from the Rajasthan bureaucrats? To your point about America, as a liberal myself, I think that a LOT of liberals happen to be in flat denial about the massive inefficiencies and problems of the system. In many circles, we often forget that this government system is far from perfect; it is simply a better system the conceivable alternatives.
    Anyway, relieved that you were not accused of being a Pakistani terrorist. Perhaps you have more adventures yet in store. I pray not.
    Happy almost-new-year.

  2. I am pleased to announce exciting new career as Indian Government Official.

    Photos please.

  3. Stephen Paul

    If it raised the Tea Party up a notch in your view, the bureaucracy must indeed be frustration of the highest order. Good luck in surmounting any future interactions with it.

  4. Ouch! I can 100% empathise with your FRO-related concerns. I challenge you to discover what the ‘official’ position is regarding your final departure from India. One guy in Gurgaon FRO told us we absolutely had to surrender our registration papers before leaving, another told us we had to do the same AND get written approval to leave, and another told us we had to do nothing and could carry the papers with us when we left the country for the last time. We chose the latter and hope this doesn’t screw us up if we ever return. I’m a Brit and I blame the Brits for this!

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