Realism or admission of failure?

No police verification to get your passport. Bars and pubs must shut doors before midnight. Request for no cell phone towers near prisons (sorry, cant find the link). And the SEZ act itself.

I see a common thread running across these things. Read the spin.

In fact, the Ministry of external affairs (MEA) wanted to do away with the requirement of address verification of a passport applicant! Thank god the proposal was shot down. 2007 onwards, you don’t need police verification, thank god again, only for reissue of passports. So if you look at it, one part of our government is throwing its hands up saying “hey, we can’t ensure prompt address verification, nor can we clean up 100 Rs a pop police verification process”. Since we can’t sort that stuff for you, here is a better alternative, let us do away with those processes!

In Bangalore, pubs and bars must shut shop before midnight, why? Because that creates drunken driving situations and law and order problems. Its like the cops saying, “Sorry, I got to go sleep, can’t keep watching after you lawless folks 24 by 7”. Next you know, night time curfews will be the preferred solution to night-time murders and robberies.

Ministry of home affairs (or some other body like that, not sure, can’t find link to this story) had recently made a suggestion that cellular towers near prisons be shut down or moved away. Reason, prisoners get mobile phones smuggled in and run the empires from their cells. “Let us be realistic about it, they somehow manage to get the phones in”. This was the argument they put forward. Oh wow! Can’t do my job, so the baton should be passed on to someone else.

Now this may sound like a bit of a stretch. But to me, SEZ idea stems from the same “I-am-throwing-my-hands-up” philosophy. The government is indirectly saying, we can’t hope to build you good roads, 24-by-7 power or incentivized tax structure, nor can we hope to loosen the red tape anytime soon. So here, take this island, and build your oasis. Wonder why the govt bothers to do the hard job of securing land for these islands. Sooner or later, I predict they will stop doing that as well.

Dear state and central governments, providing 1) good law and order, and 2) infrastructure, and hence good environment for entrepreneurs and businesses – this is the bare minimum that you can’t wash your hands off. No short cuts allowed.

I will take over-reaction as a criticism for this post. But don’t tell me my expectations are unrealistic. Please, don’t fall in that trap.


25 Responses

  1. Nope, I wont tell you that your expectations are unrealistic. These are the least that a government must provide. But as you said, the govt is trying to wash its hands off all that. Rather, they are trying their hands at baby sitting me. Telling me what I should watch, what I shouldn’t. What is obscene and what isn’t. What drink I should buy and is good for me! They need to let go off this communist mindset and let people make choices, good or bad. All that the govt needs to do is work on bijli, sadak, paani, health, education and law and order. Leave the rest to the people, they know what they doing.

  2. Neither are you over-reacting, nor are your expectations un-realistic.
    The sad thing is that we are in such bad state of affairs that even if we are expecting for bare minimums, it seems as if we are over expecting!
    I agree with you completely. These are only short cut methods followed by the government/concerned-body to simply fool people that “they” are doing something! In reality they are just turning away from their responsibilities.

    Interestingly when SRK was interviewed recently, he said “There is so much hue and cry about banning smoking on screen.. in public places etc. All the Govt did was just ban here and there. Why not ban the Industries. If it is so harmful to people why let people produce it in the first place?”

    This seems logical to me. The Govt can’t do any thing about the cig industries becasue they are getting huge revenue from them…instead they ask people not to smoke. Why can’t they do their job first and then ask us to do something. This is pure hypocracy!

  3. The courts are also a problem. I believe one of the judges wanted phone companies to jam the signals in the cellular range near prisons!! Instead of making phone companies bear the cost for jamming equipment (which will be passed on to consumers anyway), why not ask the police to enforce the laws on the books!! We have too many unenforceable laws as it is.

    The problem is the Indian society itself. Politicians, bureaucrats, judges, businessmen, police, workers etc. are all a reflection of the kind of values we practice as individuals and as a community. Since most of the people themselves are corrupt and lack any civic or ethical sense, you cannot expect politicians or police to be any different. Even if govt enacts a sensible law, people will try to find loop-holes, workarounds or resort to outright bribery. Rule of law works only when a majority of the society has respect for laws and institutions.

    BTW, SEZs are the biggest land scams in ages. Grab as much land as you want at cheap rates, put minimal development into the land and sell it at astronomically high rates. Screw the poor farmers in the process. For SEZs to work, GoI should limit their number to a few dozen and locate them on barren or dry/monocrop lands. Those who lose land should not only get compensation, but a small share of the SEZ ownership or guaranteed alternate employment for their livelihood.

    I am all for keeping the pubs open 24×7 as long as police are there to catch law-breakers. How about doubling or tripling the tax on bars & restaurants to cover the cost of extra policemen on the road at nights?

  4. How about posting a small squad of non-corruptible policemen near bars / pubs at night ? This will ensure that the amount of people caught for drunken driving starts paying for the cost of these policemen. It may also end up creating a new profession of autos/taxis only earning from driving drunken people home.
    I differ about the concept of SEZ’s. They are a good policy that (with proper controls and supervision to avoid land grab) to attract investment. Either we believe that funds will come in on their own (even though other countries are more liberal) or that we believe that we can make places that are more attractive to investment.

  5. Good post SB. Seeing that most of the people so far have agreed with you, I’ll attempt playing “devil’s advocate”. From what I’ve come to know of you, I safely assume you won’t take it personally.

    Passport issue – That seems like a drastic step on part of the government. However, let us not forget the scope of the issue we are dealing with here. I did pay a bribe of Rs 200 to the police station for a quick clearance, not that I had a past conviction to hide. From what I’ve seen, most of the people do that. Do we approach the ACB in this circumstances? Is it okay for us to get away with saying the whole system is corrupt when we ourselves are a part of that system as well? I am not trying to be judgemental here and apologize if it comes across as such. Prostitution and drugs are legal in some Scandanavian countries. Isn’t that an example of government washing their hands off issues which seem inherently unstoppable? There was talk in the US of legalizing Marijuana and crack Cocaine? Reason, the magnitude is so huge that it is impossible for the mighty US govt to control and stop some guys from becoming filthy rich. Analysing it further, could the government have some good intentions by implementing this step? But then if it does, how far will it go? There are a lot of issues, not all of which can be solved in the manner that the govt isacting. Some points to ponder on….?

    Midnight curfew – I am from Gujarat – the “dry” state – officially at least. You can get liquor if you want though, however it is not as easy at stopping at a bar. One of the main differences I’ve seen is the sense of security that women, especially, feel in Gujarat. During Navratri, I’ve seen girls riding home on their scooty’s or kinetic honda’s alone at 2 or 3 in the night. I’ve been to a quite a few cities where this is unheard of. About Bangalore, I’m unaware. Even that is the result of govt taking the easy way out – banning liquor completely, which leads to something quite positive. Do we still criticize it? Taking it further, talk about gun control. Everyone can own a gun in the US, they can’t in India. Is that good or bad? Once again, if you look at it, its the easy way out.

    Cellular phones/prisons: Can’t argue with this because to me it seems like a manageable issue.

    SEZ: I’ve been wanting to write a post on this and maybe this will prove to be the trigger. Economist came out with a survey of India, in June/july and detailed the amount of expenditure it would require on part of the government to keep up the GDP growth. The expenditure required is astronomical. We already have to spend huge sums on energy and petroleum. No way can the government come up with the amount that is needed other than by raising Income Taxes. So is this way better than raising taxes for the common man? I think so. Once again, the question comes down to the magnitude of the issue.

    I resist from commenting on the un-realism part. I am just trying to bring some objectivity to the table. Cheers!

  6. Hello all,
    Silkboard talks about a number of matters in his post, and I shall have to go through them one by one.

    1)Police verification for passports- ensuring people are who they claim to be, and actually reside where they claim to reside, are essential features in a functioning nation. The police must be capable of doing these things, or something is seriously wrong and reform is needed. Having a sound police force is essential for national security. While in recent times there have been a number of sucesses(the busting of certain terror plots like the one in Mysore,the rescue of a boy kidnapped in Blore), there have also been failures(the main IISC culprits are still at large). This needs to be looked into ASAP.

    2)Closing time for bars-Unlike security, the freedom to enjoy yourself at bars is NOT a fundamental right.. If keeping bars open wth suitable protection, and taking care to see that the people going home do not drive drunkenly costs a lot of money, unless the bar owners pay for it, it must not be done. Public money must not be spent simply to enable people to party more.If the Police Comm. feels that closing bars reduces the crime rate-it must be done as drinking is not essential and worthy of preservation.

    3)SEZ-the most contentious issue of them all. Modern industry certainly needs infrastructure(roads/power/ports/airports etc) to grow, the the lack of such infrastructure has been constraining India’s growth in recent times. Untill now, the govt. has been trying to provide this, and only partly suceeding. In many cases, the infrastructure provided is NOT good enough.It is certainly possible for the government to borrow more money and build better infrastructure, as has been done in China.This would lead to an increase in the fiscal deficit(already too big) or state owned banks being forced into making bad loans to the govt(as has happened in China). Neither of the above are obviously desirable. It is of course possible, to spend govt.funds (collected through normal taxes or even a special cess) to build infrastructure,as long as this is used by the nation as a whole. The Golden Quadrilateral is a good example of this. It was paid for by general revenue and a cess on fuel(in a sense, paid by users).
    However, in certain cases, only a small number of people benefit. One example is the current situation on Hosur Road, where many feel that an elevated highway is the only way traffic can reach Electronic City easily. This would only benefit those who travel from Silkboard circle to EC daily,not the population at large. It would be unfair to ask the whole city(or state or nation) to pay for this entirely. All the same, the elevated road is most certainly necessary-crores of rupees of engineers’ time is wasted travelling, when they should have been working.The ideal solution is somewhat like what has been arrived at-the companies pay part of the cost(benefit to them-time and money is saved), the govt. pays part of the cost(even though not everyone uses the elevated road, some people do, and those people have a right to expect some service from the govt) and the users pay part of the cost(through tolls). This means a very useful piece of infrastructure has been created, although the common man/woman has not been forced to pay for something that he/she will never use.
    SEZs must be seen in this light. Modern infrastructure must be made available for factories/industries, in the form of eight lane expressways, 24 hour power suppply,modern ports etc. The government has not been able to provide these, and if we keep waiting for the govt to provide them, we will keep waiting for ever. Industry needs these things, and needs them ASAP. There is another question of fairness-there are plenty of people in great poverty,and they too are Indians, and surely public money must be first spent to help them. Many villages have only dirt roads, and very irregular(if any) power supply. Just today Andhra farmers were protesting as they want 9 hours power supply, but do not get it.The government is making some steps to provide this(like the Bharath Uday Mission), but these must be augmented. Any industry that wants modern infrastructure msut pay for it -there is no such thing as a free lunch. Of course, an industrialist would argue that he has already paid the govt for it in the form of taxes, and so after providing his own infrastructure, he is entitled to a tax break-as is true with an SEZ.
    I agree that some SEZ projects are actually land grabbing attempts, which do not attempt to develop sophisticated infrastructure but only try to deal in land or get unfair tax breaks. There are now laws to prevent this, but whether they are sufficient remains in question. That is however, the subject of another discussion.
    Labour laws cannot be relaxed uniformly throughout the nation-there are just too many vested interests. Of course, some of these opposing “reform” may have valid points, as a completely free labour system will lead to sweatshops as are found in Central America.That too is the subject of another post as this one is getting too long

    I thank silkboard and all others for reading this entry

  7. It is better than paying the local police walla Rs 500; and spreading more corruption.

    When corruption cannot be stopped, it is right to squeeze all ways for men in uniform to be corrupt.

    Singur – I bet if WB govt. backs out, and refuses to buy the land from farmers; farmers are going to go on dharna that they want to sell land because the price is so good.

    SEZ welcome move.

  8. who knows, in the days to come, one might be able to post a comment on any blog without providing the email id. ;)

    silkboard, wish you and all my friends here a fantastic 2007.
    party heartily and safely.

  9. Roshan, Shark, Resident Alien, Ashish, OI, George. Hotgal – I am overwhelmed to see such detailed and thoughtful comments. May be the SEZ part of my thought is a bit of a stretch, but overall I will stick by my theme that we got to expect more and better. Poor governance isn’t any coincidence, it is also a function of our expectations.

    RK, Happy new year 2007 to you as well, and to all the readers here! Hope our city and country sees even better sustained growth and development in the coming year.

  10. No police verification to get your passport
    Most welcome. Why should there be a police verification in the first place? I mean if you can prove that you are an India citizen, then why should you be denied a passport? And if you have a problem, you can always revoke it later.

    Bars and pubs must shut doors before midnight
    The excuse that “it creates drunken driving situations and law and order problems” is just that – an excuse (and a bad one at that). As you said, next we would all be asked to get home by 7pm becuase crime rate increases after that. Its an adminssion that the agencies that are supposed to prevent “law and order problems” have failed utterly and completely, and are trying to shrug off the responsibility.

    Request for no cell phone towers near prisons
    Will someone explain to them that people have a right to good reception even if they are staying near a prison (not inside it), or happen to be moving around in an area near a pridon.

    And the SEZ act itself
    No comments, am still trying to make up my mind on this.

    Except for passport (which I think is more of streamlining) and SEZs (on which I don’t have an opinion), I think its not even a admission of failure; it gives a sense that our government agencies have failed but instead of admitting that they have failed, are trying to make excuses and shrug off the responsibility.

  11. What are you saying Sajith!? How exactly do you prove you are an Indian? Your previous fake passport? 200-Rs-bribe-to-a-hospital birth certificate? Or your brown skin? And revoke passports later after guys flee the country on fake or improperly verified passports?

    We have a terribly week internal security setup. Things like inability to verify identities and addresses is one reason why.

    Same constable who takes Rs 100 to verify your address would take Rs 500 to let an RDX filled truck in the city through a checkpost without checking its cargo (hope you know the Mumbai blast story). You want to start addressing why they are able to take bribes and get away (low salaries, no receipts or whatever). Skirting around a problem is never a solution.

    We have hope though. Police reforms are underway thanks to Supreme Court, and could be the most important development of 2007. I am still reading around, promise a post on the subject sometime soon.

  12. Thanks for initiating such a vibrant debate on so many issues – it was nice to read the post and all the detailed comments and get a perspective.
    I am also worried about the consequences of abolishing police verification.
    Closing down pubs by 12 – personally I have no problem and welcome it as it may help people go home by midnight but yes clearly it is a sign of the government’s lack of efficiency and choosing to use the easy way out.
    Cell phones – clear sign that the prison management is so corrupt and inefficient. They are barking up the wrong tree in stead of addressing the “real” issue.
    In short I am appalled at how the system gets away with such inefficiency. How do we make them more efficient and accountable rather than seeking refuge in rules that curb the liberties of people or compromise the general interest!

  13. How exactly do you prove you are an Indian? Your previous fake passport? 200-Rs-bribe-to-a-hospital birth certificate?
    If I had a fake passport obtained by bribing or a fake birth certificate by the same means, what prevents me from having a new passport by the same means (bribing)?

    Things can work in two ways:
    1. You can buy anything you want by bribing someone.
    In this case does it really matter if we bribe one more person for police verification? Or is it good enough that we have bribed a few people earlier to obtain other identity proofs?
    2. There are pretty stringent measures in place to prevent you from obtaining any identity proof by dubious means.
    In this case is it not good enough that you have proved you identity once? Let’s say a PAN Card, or Voter ID

    Of course, theorotically there could exist a third way: things are easy for everything except a passport. But frankly, I don’t see much of a possibility of that happening.

    So we end up with this: How is my identity being verified any more by some police person seeing me stay at a place and verifying if I have any criminal records? If you want identity, things like driving lisence, PAN Card, Voter ID etc are good enough. And extra police verification is only an unwanted/extra effort that is usually never useful anyway.

    Silkboard, for once I have to disagree with you.

  14. Btw, I am not trying to advocate that getting fake passports be made easy. Just pointing out why police verification does not (and will not) work. If everyone else can accept bribes, there is no way you can expect a particular set of professionals (the police personals) to remain unaffected.

    That said, I agree that overall our governments are miserable at the basic governance issues. Just that I don’t think relaxing the norms for new passports qualify as failure (or admission of failure), I would rather call it realism and streamlining.

  15. Fair enough Sajith, I do see your point. In fact, that is why this post was more of a question: is it being realistic, or is it admitting failure? Probably both. You know you can’t fix the problem. But you want to speed things up. So you let go of an inefficient but important step of the process.

    See, this monster called bribery can’t be wished away. Eliminating the checkpoints (like address verification here) that invite bribery is certainly one way to go.

    A way would be to 1) spread around responsibilities and 2) create direct government-public channels. What if all landlords were to be made responsible for keeping their building’s addresses valid and updated. What if birth certificates could directly be printed by anyone (already happens at a few places in Bangalore).

    Anyway. Usha said the right thing – “the system gets away with such inefficiency”. It certainly is getting harder now, and that is why we see our country getting better! Cheers!

  16. Very invigorating discussion indeed. I wonder if we are really serious about ringing in any change. The encroachments on roads and public places appalls me and i wonder if there is any solution. Have you ever been on the Sarjapur – Hosur Road near Madivala. Right bang opposite to the Madivala police station we have a huge market operating on the service roads spilling out to the main road. I distinctly remember a time (about 4 years ago) when the road was quiet with hardly a soul around. I am pretty sure the vendors must be paying a fat ‘mamool’ to the cops there for them to turn a blind eye – the traffic chaos be dammed. When i went to lodge a complaint with Traffic DCP (East) when they enforced the one-way there, i was literally brushed away and told to mind my own business. I really wonder how we can root this out of our system and start progressing !

  17. Very thoughtful post.

  18. Closing time for bars-Unlike security, the freedom to enjoy yourself at bars is NOT a fundamental right.. If keeping bars open wth suitable protection, and taking care to see that the people going home do not drive drunkenly costs a lot of money, unless the bar owners pay for it, it must not be done.

    Very well said…People often seem to confuse freedom with fundamental rights. Could not agree with you more as far as the above goes.

  19. Namma Nadu Things do seem hopless if you take an isolated look at corruption at that level. But I am hopeful this will get reduced with time.

    Thanks Veena

    OI and others, you are putting words in my mouth now. I didn’t talk about fundamental right and freedom here. I can get drunk at my own or my friend’s home as well and drive out in the night. The “yellow plates” regularly drive like mad dogs in the night hours (and routinely crush pedestrians). Pleading inability to police drunken drivers is not a good enough excuse. Make the pubs pay more (well, don’t they already pay enough taxes), or use the opportunity to educate drivers. But don’t put your hands up and take a short cut.

    Our law and order setup is a sham. Most of us are good (peace-loving, coward or whatever, you name it) people, made so by our way of living (some call it culture). Otherwise, with so much income disparity, and such low level of investments in internal security setup, our cities and country would been one big anarchy.

  20. @ silkboard

    I wasn’t trying to put words in your mouth. I am sorry if it came across as such. It was just a general observation. That comment from George made me think a little bit more and wanted to draw attention to what George said. That is all there is to it. I wasn’t trying to imply anything.

  21. no no, not at all OI, I wasn’t angered there. I missed a few exclamation marks here and there, or else the comment wouldn’t have sounded like that. Peace!

  22. Police Verification for Passports – it was always a joke and 99% of people in india are force to pay bribes. There are 0.5% who refuse to pay bribe, get their passports rejected, keep trying and get it after delay of years or months, other 0.5% get it without paying bribe because they are too influential (media person, politicians son et. all). General public – go to hell – pay up or else !!!

    Removing passport verification by police – very much a realistic move.

    On a related note:
    In recent years (software) companies are doing background verification at the time of hiring and often it includes Police Verification !! The way this particular police verification works is – the task is assigned to a local small time person/2 people compnay (many have sprung up) – who take your details and go to the police station (nearest to ur place of residence), and ask – is this guy a criminal. A yes/no answer will determine if the (software) company will hire you.

    Another big joke here is, you can commit whatever crime you want in Kamakshipalya, or wherever you like, but make sure the local police station (as per ur address) does not recognize you. Yes, much like Passports, PANs, Land Records, Vehicle Registration – these things are localized. One office does not know anything about its sibling office. So much so for Verification.

    A Verification Industry is booming. Any takers/investors/ a new startup on the anvil ;-) ?

  23. He had two passports, and this is a headline worthy story.

    So tell me, is it that hard to get multiple passports? Slightly different names, and slightly different address, wont that be enough? Unless MEA also does a photo match with its photo database.

    Think of it. If they really do it, our security guys must be doing so much hard-work to identify and track miscreants despite such inefficient supporting tools. Instead of helping them with better tools, MEA was suggesting bypass of one critical step!

    As AKD indirectly suggests, we need an id card thing for verification etc. Enough of multiple numbers – voter I-card, PAN, now a Mutual fund IN, drivers license, passport. Merge some of them, can we?

  24. […] the SEZ act. However, I still stand by what I said last year, SEZ policy is just another in “admission of failure” series. Ask me […]

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