Monday, November 2, 2009

Getting BBMP documents without a bribe!


This sounds impossible, correct? How can anyone get documents from City Corporation in Bangalore without bribing the officials? Sometimes, these things do happen.

At first, some background.
I bought a site from Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) in a public auction. To complete the purchase process, it took a few months, but the delay from BDA was just about a fortnight. I never bothered about that fortnight of delay, for the process was clean and free of corruption. During the registration of the property of the at the Sub Registrar's office, the officials at SRO office demanded bribe, that too openly. I somehow managed w/o bribing, because the entire amount of purchase was paid in white money and there was no room for SRO officials to accuse me of under-invoicing (to pay less stamp duty). Then came the arduous process of getting the Ledger Registration Certificate (called Khate) created for the same property in the Bangalore Municipal Corporation (called BBMP locally). Registration of ledger is like opening an account in BBMP, only in this case, was a tax account - to get an account to pay annual property tax. The site fell under the jurisdiction of Bommanahalli office of BBMP.

I applied, with all the documents specified on BBMP website, on 21 May 2009, knowing very well that BBMP will not meet the self-declared SLA of 7 working days for the issue of Khate. During application, I was asked to pay the property tax upfront (not a pre-requisite as per their SLA) to which I responded "you specify and I will pay after you do so". To this I was asked to meet the Revenue Inspector Mr. G. I met Mr. G who courteously but eerily asked me to give my mobile phone no. and said he would call me in a fortnight. He even showed files pending with him since March 2009 (already two months of wait)!

Getting no response, I went to the office on 27 Aug 2009 and dug up my case. My dad accompanied me to the BBMP office on all my visits. Upon my dad's pressure on the clerk, the clerk handed over me a letter that asked me to pay tax upfront and to take the Mr. G to show the site "a site inspection". Both these were not required at all. BBMP can demand tax (with arrears) after the registration of ledger and it is the duty of the revenue inspector to inspect the site himself. Mr. G asked me to meet him at the local corporation office the next day for the site inspection. I paid the tax the very same day.

I promptly took Mr. G on my scooter on the next day, to my site. He, with all the arrogance told me "You claim this is your site. There's bush all around. How do I know this is your site? Is there a stone with the site number?". I took him beside the bush and showed him the stone that had the site number. He then realized I was a little difficult to deal with. So he asked me "Will you take the process further?", in a veiled way of asking whether I would seek his extra service with a bribe. I said I would follow up on my own, to which he responded "All the officials are new here. The process requires approval of 5 officers above me". He did not want to let go of me easily. I said I will follow up but he should give the inspection report. He said he would. That evening I filed a response to the letter they had issued, stating that I had paid the taxes and that the inspection was done and took an acknowledgment from the office.

Fast forward 5 weeks and I went again. This time we discovered that the file had not moved and that our reply documents were missing. I met Mr. G again. He said he will look into the matter and that I should contact him only after the BBMP elections were over. The election dates themselves were not announced and he was pretending busy. This agitated my dad. He stormed into the Assistant Revenue Officer's cabin. He asked the ARO "Do you expect your staff to die, their next generation to secure jobs on compassionate grounds and then to process our file?". The ARO who's the boss of Mr. G was taken aback. He summoned Mr. G and inquired. The ARO told Mr. G, "Why do you keep such applications pending for months? Why can't you clear them and get rid? This man is cursing us all to death". Mr G tried to give a justification. My dad retaliated "Do you need months to put up a file?". (Put up means to send it to a higher officer). He put up the file for next step that evening itself. No waiting for unannounced BBMP elections!

Fast forward one more fortnight, a Monday. I called the receiving clerk Mr. S (who had gladly given me his mobile phone no. hoping that I would bribe him) that our file had not moved forward. That afternoon, Mr. S called my mobile phone from Mr. G's phone. I received the call, and since I had stored Mr. G's phone no. (again willingly given with the hope of business) and responded "Hello Mr. G, how are you?". To this, Mr. S was taken aback. He identified himself, said my file had moved a step, and that I had to get some cash to move it further. I was enraged. With my dad, I rushed to the office after having decided that we would meet the Divisional Revenue Officer (DRO) or even a higher Joint Commissioner (JC). I had also taken the JC's office direct phone no. from the BBMP call centre. I met the DRO there, after overcoming the resistance of the clerks and peons who were trying to stop me and my dad from meeting her. I explained the case to her (DRO) to which she responded that I meet Mr. G. My dad told that it was nonsense as Mr. G had not acted on it. I opened my phone call logs and showed her Mr. G's call that afternoon and told her that I was asked to bribe. She pretended not to have heard that, but said she would take my application forward immediately. She summoned Mr. G and other clerks applicable to my case. Mr. G promptly came, asked me to pay the ledger registration fee (legal requirement) amounting to two percent of the stamp duty and I was asked to meet a clerk Mr. A after 3 days. I presented the Bank Draft for the specified amount that day itself.

After a week we found that our file was being shuttled between two clerks Mr. A and Mrs. S, finally I brought them together and it was agreed that Mrs. S would take my application further. Mrs. S, after two weeks and a few follow-ups, gave me a notice, specifying that my ledger was registered and that I would get the Ledger Registration Certificate (Khata) after I pay the tax and submit a follow-up application". I immediately gave her a follow-up application, along with copies of tax paid receipts. She finally handed me the Ledger Certificate and accompanying File Extract (called Khata Extract) on 31 Oct 2009.

My dad & I thought about the entire process. We found that we had made 12 visits to the BBMP office. Upon speaking with similar applicants, we found that those that had bribed has still made about 8 trips, proving that bribing was no guarantee in getting the work done! We had only made 4 extra visits and that too without bribing! Definitely worth it!

All this happened with my dad's support and the support of my manager - he liked my not bribing, and finally, my knowledge of Kannada, the language of local governance.

So why have I posted this on IT Marketing blog? The reason is simple. Though the Governments may like computerization for speedier processing of public work, the vested interests in the government departments oppose. The reasons are many.

The vested interests:
1. Do not want computerization because of the transparency it brings
2. Do not want computerization because the faster process reduces their opportunities to seek bribe
3. Paper records help them to conceal irregularities and such records are easier to destroy - you often get to hear that two to three ministry buildings catch fire in New Delhi every year. Such fire accidents are not really coincidences as not surprisingly no one dies but only the records are destroyed...
Many more...

Good luck marketing Information Technology products and services to governments in India...

Venkatesh K

My GoodReads Bookshelf - The books I have read and found interesting...