Driving Licence

My driving licence expired in October last year. I had taken the original one from Kalyan where I stayed for twenty-five years and had moved to Thane ten years ago. Whenever I went to renew the licence, I was told that I had to go to Kalyan to get it done. That would have been cumbersome; moreover I was sure that the job would not be done in a day. I hated the idea of having to take two days off from office for getting driving licence.

In the meantime newspapers published reports of how driving licence could be obtained with great ease in Mumbai. I guessed that obtaining one was going to be more difficult now.

My wife could take this no longer, she gave me an ultimatum. I had to get my licence. So I spoke to somebody who was willing to provide assistance. ‘No problem’ he said. ‘It has been seven months since your driving licence expired, but it is possible to get it done.’ So I filled up the form, provided the photographs and now applied for it in Thane. I was told that I had to go to RTO’s office for ‘Biometrics’ and then the licence would be delivered the next day.

I presented myself at the RTO’s office. I was happy that I was the first one in the queue. I had to pay the fees there. The clerk behind the window looked at my application and asked me to go to Window number one to get instructions on how much money was to be paid by way of fees! He was working with a PC but the process essentially remained unchanged in spite of office automation. I asked him, ‘Don’t you have a chart on your PC that tells you how much I have to pay for this type of application?’

‘Go to Window 1’, he dismissed me.

I ascertained how much fees I had to pay and returned to the first window to pay it. And suddenly the power supply went off. I remembered that the electricity company had informed all that there would be no power supply between 10 am to 3 pm on that day. ‘Switch on the UPS’ somebody said. There was reluctant movement of people who got up to restore power supply. ‘It isn’t working’ one person spoke; he appeared to be the boss there. We wondered what to do next. The person sitting next to me had come from a ‘driving school’ to get licence for his clients. He spat out his tobacco and said, ‘It is always like this, they will never improve.’ ‘If they did, you will not have this job’ I told him.

I looked inside the ‘Biometrics’ section. Three young girls were sitting idle. Their computers had no power supply. One of them said, ‘It is going to be a holiday, I think.’ Another replied, ‘But we will have to sit here in this sweltering heat, even ceiling fans will not work. Terrible.’

Half an hour passed when there was a loud sound of ‘Aha’! The power supply from the electricity company had resumed. Employees of RTO’s office dragged themselves to their work station. I submitted my application and the fees. The clerk on the counter accepted it and gestured to move to the next window. The clerk on the next window was to issue receipt! He did. I then moved to the Biometrics section.

The biometrics section girls set up their computers. The mod man tinkered with his computer. I was issued a token by the clerk on the last window. A girl called out my token number and I presented myself. She asked me to sit in a chair net to her, adjusted her camera to take my picture and clicked the mouse. A girl who operates a mouse should be called a ‘mousie’ [mother’s sister] I thought and almost laughed. That picture was not accepted. ‘Smile, don’t laugh’ she said and clicked the mouse again. This photograph met with her approval. Then she asked me to sign on a plastic pad with a pen which had no ink and I had no inkling of how my signature would look like. But now I could see my signature on the screen. ‘Too big, won’t fit into the space allowed in the licence’ she said. ‘That’s because I have too long a name’, I said. No response. This was no place for small talk, I thought. I signed my ‘invisible’ signature again. ‘You can go, and collect your driving licence tomorrow at 10.30 am from Window number 1’, she said. The next day my driving licence was collected by somebody on my behalf, after waiting for three hours.

I was happy that I did not have to go to Kalyan. I wondered why they used IT if they did not wish to implement ‘one-window’ clearance. I wondered why the UPS did not work there. I wondered what would have happened to maintenance staff if it were a private organisation. And I suddenly realised that if it were an efficient organisation I would not have waited so long to renew my licence. Or perhaps they would have punished me for the default by now! The experience at a government office is so repulsive that one would like to avoid it to the extent possible.

Why can’t government offices be efficient and customer friendly like banks?

Perhaps they can be. If they were, I would have been in jail in November last year for driving without a licence!

BBC was showing a special report today on Indian road conditions. The film said that people can get driving licence in India without giving a test. I do not like it, I thought, but I also realised that I was a beneficiary.

Do we really want them to be different?