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Corruption is Endemic in India

Posted by anandrr on June 29, 2008

Professional economists tell us what we all already knew: Corruption is everywhere. As we’ve observed before, Indian governments are caught in a cleft stick here. The only way to solve this problem is to pay your government bureaucrats more, but we’re too poor and run too large a deficit to try either of these (paying bureaucrats more money will not win you an election, forgiving billions of rupees in farmer’s loans might). The only way out would appear to be have an independent agency do a good job of holding corrupt officials accountable. But even that is only a partial solution. If being a babu became less rewarding, people would just stop entering public service.

I am reminded here of the times we ourselves obtained our car-driving license. We have now done this three times. The first time was at the Bangalore RTO. That was a simpler time, to be sure. Much less corruption, indeed we ourselves had got our motorcycle drivers’ license at the very same RTO in the straightforward drive-the-motorcycle-around-the-block and the demonstrate-your-knowledge-of-hand-signs manner. When the time came for the car license, we had first gone to a driving school to learn. Said driving school then lined up 4 or 5 of us with a school-supplied-car (we took our dad’s) to drive around the block. Since there were about 5 of us, we got an opportunity to watch every one drive, some could barely get the car to move, some stalled on turns, yet others had no idea what the hand signals were. We ourselves had amply supplemented our driving school lessons with driving our dad’s car all around town so we had little trouble demonstrating our perfect driving skills. Needless to say, we failed the test. Others who clearly had no idea how to drive, passed. This was the very first time we had failed a test in our life, so we were completely heart broken. Perhaps it was the complete arbitrariness that broke our spirits, or perhaps it was our very first experience with corruption. Our father of course encouraged us with word and gesture to go take the test again with a positive attitude. Thankfully, we passed the next time around, and all was well with the world. One shudders to think what might have happened had we failed again.

The second time we had to get a driver’s license was when we went to the US. This time we were at school in Utah and the first break we got, my room mate and I decided to rent a car, go to the DMV, get our licenses, and then drive on down to Las Vegas for our first American-style vacation on the road. The Utah license seemed like fun. After we paid our fees, the good lady told us to go take the written test. As we headed test-wards, she asked if we didn’t want the DMV book to refer to as we took the test. An open book test! We had just spent the previous evening reading up on American signs, and which way to point the wheel when parked on a downhill, and here apparently all we needed to do was know how to read the Table of Contents. Of course, we took the books, aced the tests and then proceeded to take the driving  test. Turned out that the driving test was conducted not on the streets, but in a test driving range, complete with demarcated parallel parking spots and train crossings with flashing reds, and a complete absence of real traffic. We did the entire test well, parallel parked with ease, came to a complete stop at the stop signs, turned left into the left most lane, perfect in every way. And then we returned to the office and I was told I had failed. “You didn’t look over your shoulder before changing lanes,” the DMV officer told me rather mournfully. She was just as disappointed in the result as I was, I had done everything just right apparently, but not looking over one’s shoulder was a failing offence, nothing to be done about it. I protested that when there was absolutely no traffic anywhere around me for miles, nothing in my rearview mirrors, nothing ahead of me, it was a little much to expect me to pretend there was traffic and look over my shoulder. I mean there is a blind spot and all, but dammit, I’m not  that blind. But to no avail. She took my point however and said that since all I did wrong was that one thing, instead of having to wait the usual week or two before being allowed to take the test again, I could return the next day and retake the test, just remember to look over your shoulder this time. We returned the next day, retook the test, pointedly looked over our shoulder (to his credit, the DMV officer gave us a few chances to change lanes so we had ample opportunity to demonstrate our look-over-the-shoulder-skills). This gave us our license so we could now drive on down to Las Vegas and party like real Americans. Also, we had a non-passport id that we could show at the door of an establishment requiring age-check so there was that.

The third opportunity to interact with license-granting authorities came in California. Having postponed getting our license as long as possible (a few years beyond the legal 2 weeks), we were finally forced to visit the DMV when our Utah license expired. No driving test this time, just the written. No open book test this time either. The California test had a few trick questions requiring more than one’s common sense but also real knowledge of the law. We barely made it through, we got 3 wrong, we think 5 wrong disqualifies one. But the DMV officer was impressed! She beamed at me as if I were the smartest person to walk into the DMV that day, just 3 wrong! Personally, we were just glad we were going to get out of the DMV with our license in one try, but we weren’t about to argue with the soft bigotry of low expectations. Of course, this being California, we didn’t actually leave with our license, in fact we had to return to the DMV a couple more times before we got the damn license, but that’s California bureaucracy for you.

Now that we’re back in India, we might have to return to the RTO some time. We’d like to get all our names in various official documents to all read the exact same so we are never harassed by random officals just looking to give us a hard time. But we’re not sure we’ll leave the RTO with our wallets intact, so we’re postponing this as long as we can.

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3 Responses to “Corruption is Endemic in India”

  1. PS said

    You seem undecided about how many people you are – there are lots of “we” to begin with and then at some point you relapse into “I”. Who is the “we” anyway? You and your tapeworm?

  2. PS said

    Er. We didn’t mean to be rude with the ‘tapeworm’ bit…
    :-)

  3. ax said

    erm,
    maybe ps should just read some more interesting stuff.
    second in india it is more likely to be round rather than tape worm
    :p

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