When Delhi-ites voted anti-corruption crusaders in the form of Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party into power, we felt morally superior. The Lokpal Bill, the exhortations to videotape officials asking for bribes — all this made us feel that finally the fight against graft has begun. Well, it must have, but some areas are still untouched.
That’s because those who are used to being on the take are not going to give up just like that, out of the goodness of our hearts. And those of us not used to thinking on our feet, not quick on the uptake, are often taken unawares when we go for a bribe.
Since I’m of a certain age, I’ll start with a flashback. Because what happens to you in your prime has a certain searing quality. You don’t forget those experiences, either good or bad. So let’s go back to 1990 or so, when my father asked me to take possession of a flat he had been allotted in Ghaziabad. The IAS officer who was vice chairman of the Ghaziabad Development Authority (GDA) was after all his batchmate, a dynamic officer who had worked wonders in the horticulture or some such department. All I had to do was collect my papers and go get the possession letter. But three of my long commutes from Delhi ended up in frustration. The clerks kept asking for this or that paper. I called up my dad long distance and told him they’re probably wanting a bribe, and I should meet the man himself. I did. He frowned (what acting skills!) called up the clerks, who told him my papers weren’t complete, and then extended a favour: he said all objections would be waved aside and work would be done.
A few years later, the scam in GDA was exposed and he was thoroughly disgraced.
So in 2016, despite hearing what a breeze it is getting birth certificates from the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), it took me a month to summon up the courage to go to that office to get a death certificate. I know quite well that the birth of a sweet old baby is only a matter of joy, which even government officials can feel. But the death of a man is a gold mine. He might have left properties, insurances policies, bank accounts. There could be multiple parties laying claim to these. So the one who now approaches the counter must be tense. A little harassment, and she might just be willing to cough up a big note just to get the work done quickly.
Opportunity comes knocking every day at the clerk’s door. That is why governments are trying to reduce the interface between supplicant and official. An online procedure would spell the death of those opportunities. What I dread happens. Instead of handing me a form to fill, they tell me public dealing is over at 3 pm. I ask: Then why does the website say 5 pm? He says, because we sit here till 5 pm. They ask where the person died. I’m confused. How does that matter? He died at home. Then they say you’ll need proof of that. I say, the hospital record is there. They look at the post-mortem report. But it says “brought dead,” they say. So what, I say. The post-mortem says there was no foul play. They say, you’ll have to go to the office of the sub-divisional magistrate. I say, what for? They say, we can’t give death certificate just like that. We need the FIR of the medico-legal case and the chit from the crematorium. I say, what if we cremated him in a village? What proof would we have? Then they ask whether I’m from any government department. I say, I wish I was, you wouldn’t talk to me like this.
I take the form, go home and try to put the papers together. I’m nervous. What if there is some signature or stamp missing? Sure enough, when I go next, they point out that the slip from the crematorium does not have the full address. I say, I’ll add some other address proof. No, they shake their heads,, go back to the crematorium….