My bizarre brush with Bureaucracy

Gimme a number

Let’s get this straight. I never wanted a Unique Identification Number (UID). I have a PAN number, DL number, Ration Card number, Service Tax number, Passport number, Voter Id number, KYC number…… No number can be “unique” to me anymore. (To see my earlier post on Aadhaar, please click here)

AadharBenefit

Yet, when government propaganda proclaimed that Aadhaar is THE unique number for availing of government and non-government (!!!) services , I panicked. What if they run out of 12 digit numbers before I could acquire one? I rushed to the nearest Registration Camp. You are wondering, what’s the big fuss about Aadhaar — they just allot a number to a person, right? Obviously, you missed Aadhaar Card- Season 1.

What happened in Season 1

modi_sardar_20140804.jpg.ashx

Season 1: UID as per ManModi

So here’s the synopsis. Nandan Nilekani boasted that the Aadhaar project was capable of being rolled out to other countries of the world. The Congress Government created a clueless white elephant and handed it to the BJP. Not quite knowing what to do, the BJP made an ass of themselves. Now the BJP Foreign Minister said she is ready to issue Aadhar cards to NRIs. (and pray, what will they do with it?). Dono partyon ne milke, janta ko ullooh banaa diya! If this looks like a sub-plot of George Orwell’s Animal Farm— kindly adjust, Saar, Season 2 is coming! Let’s see how Aadhaar is implemented on Resident Indians.

Aadhaar – Season 2: or how to automate Red Tape

The Babus at the Registration Camp were very nice— surprisingly, not a trace of the usual sarkari arrogance. I soon saw why: they were victims, not perpetrators. They were given the most clumsy process for recording data. Amazing, how the bureaucracy can make a simple task of assigning one number to one guy, so convoluted. Here’s a blow-by-blow account:

  • I filled a huge form, mainly because I had to repeat the same information in different blocks of the form. Obviously, the guy who designed it had never heard of automation!
  • Some columns had unintelligible options. For example, against the column “Date of birth:” there were 2 check-boxes, viz., “A” or “D”. (The DDMMYYYY box came later;  I had to fill this box in classic government-speak first.) Apparently “A” meant “Available” and “D” meant (and I am guessing here) “Don’t know”. Even in my most brilliant moment I couldn’t have figured this!
  • Oh, I forgot to tell you, the entire form was in Tamil except for the above mentioned alphabets. Fine by me, I am a hard-core Tamilian from Namma Chennai. But the non-Tamilians (equally patriotic Indians, surely) had a tough time.
  • After conquering this and other oddities, I joined the queue to submit the form. The queue wouldn’t move easily : I soon found out why.
  • The computer screen had two frames —one for English display and another for Tamil display. The key board of course, was in English. There was no automatic transliteration between the English and Tamil frames; so the poor operator had to key everything twice: once in English and again in Tamil, using a transliteration software.
  • The transliteration software was hilarious. For example, the English word “Block” produced many wild alternatives until the operator retyped it as “Pilak” for the correct Tamil word (பிளாக்). And “Block” was the easiest word in most mailing addresses!
  • Now, the data entry operator had to authenticate the data, using her fingerprint authentication device. The problem was: her own fingerprint had not been registered yet in the system. So every form could be saved only after her neighbouring officer came and authenticated it!
  • Then, they printed an acknowledgement for the citizen to sign. There was one printer for every 2 operators. This could have been easily managed with a cheap printer-sharer device that is available in any electronics shop. But that would be un-governmental! The sharing method was: every time a printout was needed, you got up, unplugged the printer from your neighbour’s computer and re-plugged it to yours. Your neighbour did the same of course. So what if you had to wait— government work takes time, you know?
  • Strangely, many fields that I had filled up in the form were never entered in the system. If they didn’t need it, why was I asked to fill them?

If this is how the government acquires citizens’ data, how much more complication can be expected in its retrieval and analysis? And God help us if there is a privacy breach. Oops, we hired a super-boss from Infosys and spent billions to produce this amateurish system?

A happy ending

But I got the Card promptly. And the privacy risk that I was worried about has been addressed. My wife observed my photo on the card and said it looked like: the crackpot uncle in the opposite house, our regular waiter at Udupi Balaji Bhavan, a clean-shaven Vinobha Bhave and the garbage man— all at once; there was not even a hint of suspicion that it could be me! If my own wife had problem finding my identity, how can anyone steal it? What an idea Sir-ji!

AadharPhoto

So, the WhatsApp message was true!

PS

To be fair, I must say this. Shortly thereafter I applied for renewal of my passport, furnishing only my Aadhaar Card copy as additional documentation. I got the renewal done in just 3 days. Had the passport office become super-efficient or was it the magic of Aadhaar? I will never know!

Explanatory Notes

Dono partyon…. ullooh banaa diya = The 2 parties joined to make a fool of the Public

Saar = Sir

Babus = Government burueaucrats

Sarkari = Governmental

Namma = Our

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