Saturday, August 1, 2009

The neta babu raj is alive and well

Mindless bureaucracy, popularly called the neta babu raj, is alive and kicking in India. It seems to be deeply embedded in the Indian psyche. India’s economic reforms started the dismantling of the neta babu raj, but its so powerfully entrenched that it seems to refuse to go away.

Some random experiences on this trip to India. There seem to be very few internet cafes around. To get into an internet cafĂ© you have to show a photo identity card and then enter all sorts of details in a mind numbing register. That’s the law, presumably to dissuade terrorists , who have used internet cafes before to spread evil. The mind boggles at the thought process of a bureaucrat to frame such a law. And how pointless it is.

I have to change addresses in a whole host of places and register that I am a Non Resident Indian. Two years after I moved to China, I am still at it. In each place, you have to produce an insane amount of documentation to prove the address change. It seems perfectly acceptable to the babu that the old address continues to remain on records, even though I am saying upfront that I have moved. But he won’t change the address unless you produce a ton of irrelevant documentation. And even then it doesn’t happen.

Examples like this abound for business. The Indian bureaucrat is governed by two fundamental laws – everybody is a crook unless he proves his innocence, and the best course of action is to do nothing; for by doing nothing you cannot be proved to have done wrong.

Things have improved from the 80s of course, but they are finding newer and newer forms of idiocy in bureaucracy. This is one of the worst legacies of the Brits. They gave us Sir Humphrey (if you have seen the Yes minister series). And Sir Humphrey has gone native with a vengeance. He may or maynot have vanished from the corridors of Whitehall, but he is alive , kicking and thriving in India.