This is my first-hand experience with the ‘Babu’ world and I wasn’t really surprised by the situation and outcome as this is what I expected it to be and this is how it works in various departments linked to the government. But nonetheless it is a wretched state of affairs.

While our Prime Minister speaks endlessly about digitalisation that is a vehicle of the new age of transformation and good governance that speaks of how well public institutions should conduct public affairs and manage public resources… The reality on ground is far from the truth and is actually a mess.

There is no accountability of any sort…there are no clear-cut procedures…there are no defined rules to follow and there is no system in place. Most of the task force working in such places are clueless or want to remain clueless so that they are not given too much of work load or responsibilities.

Their aim and mentality: Minimum Output to Maximum Pay/Perks! My tryst with them all started with something as simple as a ‘Change in Ownership’ while paying the House Tax. The Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon has a rather spiffy website and comes across as being very savvy and modern. But it ends there. I have managed to pay the house tax online on the rare occasion it was functioning and just before the site crashed and thereafter there were no signs of life for many days.

The Property Transfer/Ownership Change in House Tax apparently can be done online. There is a process that involves uploading documents/identity cards/various proofs etc. Armed with all this I tried my best to initiate the process online but after having struggled with it for days, I knew I would need to visit the office personally.

Leaving me no choice, I gathered all the various documents required, including photocopies and what not and reached their new swanky looking building. All very impressive and clean on the outside but as you make your way in, you cringe at the colossal amount of waste in having such a structure with no efficient system and trained staff thereafter to take care of it.

Massive long corridors and office space that is comfortably large in size with cubicles and modern equipment. I was directed to a cubicle that dealt with my ‘zone’ and after explaining what I needed to do… He asked me to get a ‘file’ ready. Right! “Can I have one?” I said to him. “Madam, you have to go down and outside the building to a shop that will help you get the file ready.” “But I have all the documents here, so why should I get out of this queue again to get a file? Please give me one and I will pay you for it.”

Looking at my irritated expression, I saw him reach behind, yank out an old file, pull out the papers in it, toss them aside on the floor, which by the way had piles of papers/files/garbage in disarray and literally flung the dilapidated looking file cover at me. While I got the papers in order, I could see him stretching back in his chair and chatting with all the ‘Babus’ passing by…including demanding a cup of tea. Finally, he looked back at me…I had been staring at him since the past few minutes, when through my papers most disinterestedly and then took another 15 minutes to print out a receipt of my application. A job that could be done in 5 minutes took about 45 because of the lackadaisical manner of the man.

I was told to track the status of the application online through the number given and that it would be done within 2 weeks. I received a sms on my phone as well stating the same. On my way out, I noticed most cubicles had groups of 2 or 3 people huddled together…either chatting or laughing. A rare cubicle had someone working while there were many like me waiting to get work done.

The set-up is like a maze…you move from row to row…getting ousted from one office to the next till someone gives you two minutes of their time to hear your grievance. The queues move at a snail’s pace and it is deplorable to see old people trying to sort out their paper-work and cases while riffling through old files. What is missing here is greatly in all forms is… Empathy!

I started this process on the 26th of December 2015 and was told to check the status by 9th January 2016 which I did with bated breath. But there was nothing to show on the site. I was told that I was being very hopeful and needed to be more patient. Anyway, mid-February is when the online status mentioned the paperwork had moved on to the next level. Hallelujah! Five more levels to go in the hierarchy before I would see closure.

Come May, nothing moved so I sent a detailed email to my Zonal Taxation Officer about the application and delay. No response. I emailed him again in June but there was no reply once again. The mobile number given for assistance/complaints rings but is never answered. What a wondrous piece of equipment! Anyway, I decided I needed to make another trip to the office and went across on a Saturday as I am relatively free then. The maze sucked me in once again and after going around in circles, my file was found in a pile under two other piles at the rear of the desk. I kept wondering as to how they ever found anything in that mess.

I was told that some payment had to be done for the transfer and then everything would happen very fast. “That is very nice,” I told the man with a plastic smile on my face that did its best to hide my bubbling anger. Great to hear that but when I questioned them about the online status I was told that the company looking after the website had been dropped and there was no other vendor to handle the website now! Oh but I would have to come back on Monday as on Saturdays no payments are taken and the SD was unavailable for signatures.

Rearranging my schedule, I was back on Monday morning, at 9:30 am sharp as the ‘Babu’ told me that they all come in by 9:15 am latest. I had looked at him quite sceptically when he had said that but he kept nodding vehemently about being on time so there I was…the lonesome person in a maze of cubicles with the sweepers and cleaners who were doing everything else but cleaning.

I stood twiddling my thumbs for over the next 45 minutes while those strolling into the office thought I was mad to be there at that unearthly hour. A senior man finally asked me why I was there and then he started yelling at his staff about punctuality and called up the person who I was to meet. Of course that man did not answer his phone.

Finally the ‘Dude’ strolled in without any remorse for being late and spent the next 10 minutes chatting with his friend in the next cubicle about his previous evening shenanigans. In passing he told me that his computer would need 10 minutes to start and till then he would grab a cup of tea. My patience running thin, I finally paid the amount I need to and was sent to another cubicle to look for my file once again. This time it was found in another pile on the floor.

An application needed to be typed and so we went from cubicle to cubicle looking for the lady who would do it. I was asked to sit in a corner of the office while it was prepared. It was sad to see brand new carpeting that had trash thrown on it…including stale food. Plastic cups of tea had soiled the corners…paper strewn here and there and endless files, files and more files.

I kept listening in to conversations of disputed properties, of mistakes in deeds, of lost applications and files that had disappeared. Not surprising though. The lady by the way typed away at my application at furious speed as she said her friend was waiting for their ‘chai and samosa’ break! “I am so sorry for delaying you,” I told her caustically but the sarcasm was lost on her.

The next wait was for the SD to show up which he finally did and I was taken to his office where he grilled me about the reasons for the paperwork which by then had me on the edge of my seat and I had visions of throwing the paper weight lying on his table at him!

Finally, when everything was over, I was told the transfer would happen ‘soon’ and that I would get a completion report message. The only thing I received after that was an email in October… Yes, the reply to my email of June… Asking me to get in touch with a random person. That mobile number is never answered either!

Two weeks later, I made another trip and met yet another person who said, “Madam, this is how it happens. This is how it is. You will get a completion status in the next two working days.”

Did he mean two days or two years? You may just find me wandering in the maze of cubicles during the Christmas break if you don’t hear from me very soon… HELP!

(Cover Photograph ARAV TEWARI, 11years: 'Babudom')