Friday, March 13, 2015

Passport travails and redundant work

Last March, my passport was about to lapse and I applied for its renewal, excited about the prospect of travelling to Vienna with my husband. I was told at the Passport office that my application would not even be accepted since it was not accompanied by a No Objection Certificate from the government. I therefore applied for a No Objection Certificate. The official responsible for processing my application informed rather grandly that no such certificate could be issued since I am on leave. Do I cease to be a government officer during my period of leave, he was asked. No, he answered indifferently. It is the job, however, of the office which you will join after completion of your leave period whose job it is to issue a No Objection Certificate ONCE you join that office. What happens in the meantime? How do I get my passport renewed? You can't, was the laconic reply. The situation remains unchanged a year later, and my plans to travel with my husband on his frequent travels abroad continue to gather dust. 

What a No Objection Certificate involves is this:

1. I write a letter requesting that a No Objection Certificate be issued.

2. The clerk (Dealing Assistant) opens a file, scribbles down a Note, stating that a particular government servant has requested that an NOC be issued for passport issue/renewal, and therefore, the Directorate of Vigilance may be requested to grant Vigilance Clearance. 

3. The file is submitted to the Section Officer and then to the Under Secretary. Once the Under Secretary has "approved", the file travels back to the Section Officer who also signs and the file finally returns to the Dealing Assistant. 

4. He sends a letter to the Directorate of Vigilance. The process is repeated here ---the Dealing Assistant scrutinizes the records, then submits a note stating that "Vigilance Clearance" may or may not be granted depending upon whether or not there are "vigilance" proceedings againt the government servant. The file travels via Section Officer to the Under Secretary, perhaps the Director , and then follows the same route to return to the Dealing Assistant. 

5. A letter is now issued to the office which had sought Vigilance Clearance. Here, the writing of a note, submission of file to the Under Secretary via Section Officer and the return of the file to the Dealing Assistant takes place yet again.

6. Finally, the government servant is sent a No Objection Certificate via mail.

Now, my very basic question is this ----- why does the government servant need a No Objection Certificate at all  to get his passport issued or renewed?

Is it the the government's case that no government servant can hold a passport or travel abroad if there are disciplinary proceedings pending against him? How does such restriction strengthen the government's case against the government servant facing disciplinary proceedings ? 

Is the denial of passport meant to serve as a punishment ? That would be illegal, since the penalties that can be imposed by the government are laid down in the relevant law. 

Does the government fear that the government servant will leave the country with his ill begotten wealth and never return ? For such a contingency , it can issue a Look Out Circular and ensure that the government servant does not leave the country. 

Does the government fear that the government servant against whom disciplinary proceedings have been initiated because he is involved in a criminal case could go abroad and vanish, to never return and face punishment vis a vis the criminal proceedings? For this contingency too, the government can take recourse to the simple expedient of a Look Out Circular.

Perhaps the government is anxious that the government servant will escape punishment for such conduct as unauthorised absence, refusal to comply with directions, supervisory failure etc . Well, if such a government servant travels abroad and never returns, he can be dismissed. He would have to forgo all pensionary benefits too. Isn't that punishment enough?

Why then does the government insist on spending time, money and manpower on something as redundant as an NOC for government servants who wish to get a passport issued or renewed ? Has it no better endeavours? 

There is also the interesting fact that MPs and MLAs, many of whom have pending criminal cases, seem to have no difficulty in travelling abroad ---- and at taxpayer's expense !!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

does she have a toilet ?

It is International Women's Day today ------ and my way of celebrating it is to give a loan to a woman to help her build a toilet.

Did you know that millions of Indian women are vulnerable to sexual assault when they step out because they do not have toilets at home? Beyond the protests and processions and prayer meetings for Nirbhaya that so many of us have participated in, are you ready to help a woman build a toilet, and help her protect herself from sexual assault?

Here's an easy way to do it ----- make a loan via MILAAP ( I made my first Milaap loan in September 2011, and in the succeeding months, I have made 44 loans (lives impacted: 730). There hasn't been a single default since I made the first loan, and the mails from Milaap revive every month the immense satisfaction I experience in having made a contribution, however minimal, in the lives of women living thousands of kilometres away. 

This is how MILAAP works. 

Milaap is an online platform that enables you to lend to India's working poor. It partners with established organizations that have a strong presence at the grass roots and a deep understanding of the 150 million Indian households with no access to water, sanitation, healthcare, education and energy. Milaap and its field partners design customized loan programs and Milaap then shares the requirements, backgrounds and photos of all borrowers. The online listing of borrower profiles enables the lender to select the cause and the borrower of his choice and give a loan of minimum USD 50 or Rs 1000. 

Every month, Milaap sends the total loan collected to its various field partners who disburse the loans and regularly monitor the progress of the borrowers and collect repayments from them. Monthly deposits of the repaid loan instalments are made into the lender's Milaap account. At the end of the loan cycle, the lender can choose to withdraw the repaid loan amount or relend it to another borrower on Milaap. 

Right now, there are at least 14 women/women's groups looking for a Milaap loan to build toilets ( ----- make a loan today, and make a difference!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

the cruelty of the rain gods and ordinary mortals

Facebook has been awash with pictures and status updates that speak of the joy and exuberance triggered by the March rains. The rains were unexpected ---- a drizzle around Holi is not uncommon, but it doesn't rain, and rain heavily, for several days when we enter March. The weather changed, light woolens were pulled out again, we shared barkha songs on social media, we reveled in the cold breeze, an online publication listed all the Delhi restaurants/cafes where one could enjoy food and wine seated outdoors, and so on and so forth. 

Today, I read in The Hindu that the unseasonal rains has played havoc with the rabi crops of wheat, mustard and chana and "may trim the output of the commodities.". The news item included several statistics to do with the area under cultivation of these crops, the expected output loss etc. There was no mention, however, of the dramatic impact that the crop failure will have on the lives of farmers. Why? We don't care, that's why. 

Did you know that in Uttar Pradesh, 3 farmers have died in the past three days? They could not bear to see the flattened fields, They could no longer brave the huge losses that they were faced with. One hanged himself from a babool tree in his wheat fields, two died of cardiac arrests when they saw the damage that the rains had wreaked overnight on the crops that were getting ready to harvest. 

Others may not lose their lives, but the coming days will be sorrowful for them ---- wheat fields have been flattened, sarson seeds will yield almost 50% less oil, half the potatoes harvested may rot because they have absorbed moisture during these two or three days of heavy rains. Some of those who grow wheat may now have to buy wheat. 

Of course, the State Governments will announce cash compensations to the affected farmers but these cash compensations are neither timely nor adequate, or no farmer would experience such distress as to take his own life when face to face with natural calamities. In Bundelkhand, the cash compensations announced in 2014 as a result of drought are yet to be disbursed, and the farmers are now confronted with damage due to rains !!

As consumers, there is not much we can do by way of direct intervention in the lives of farmers. What we CAN do is to make the effort to become better acquainted with the challenges that farmers face, and question the government when we read of policies/laws that are not farmer-friendly, and demand that the solutions that farmers , farmer organisations and and farm policy experts propose be heard more sympathetically and factored in when plans for urban and industrial growth are drawn up. The farmers do put food on our tables, don't they ?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Mingling with the hoi polloi

I heard on the news today that the Prime Minister had lunch  in the Parliament Canteen. He sat with some BJP Members of Parliament , ordered vegetarian fare, and talked with the MPs while he ate. This made for "Breaking News" on television and for good reason, I think. What we need is a cultural revolution which breaks down the barriers which exist between the lower and higher grades of the government ( in the broadest sense, covering the bureaucracy, the political class, the legislature, the executive, the judiciary). 

Perhaps it will then get transformed into a more equal relationship between those who govern and those who are governed. 

For several years, I worked in the Ministry of Finance in different capacities and interacted with other Ministries of the Union Government as well. Not once did I see the Ministers or senior bureaucrats eat in the Ministry canteens -----  dingy spaces, over crowded, serving  food which is neither wholesome nor hygienically prepared. The mantris and officers eat in their "chambers", where food is served by peons whose duties include rinsing the tiffins and serving ware in the case of mid level bureaucrats who bring home made food. If the Ministers and afsars were to have their meals in the canteen, the places would get spruced up, better food would be served, and most importantly, the aura of infallibility and superiority which surrounds them mostly because they are inaccessible would considerably diminish. 

Nowhere is this more in evidence than the Supreme Court of India. The Supreme Court Justices inhabit a world two centuries older than ours. Their magnificent offices and the near - regal paraphernalia has to be seen to be believed. Will a learned Supreme Court Justice be accorded less respect if he had his meals with all the other Supreme Court staff and officials in a canteen? Or is he afraid that his biases and prejudices and, perhaps, ignorance will get exposed if he mingles with the hoi polloi ?

Some years ago, I suggested to a senior colleague that he have tea every month with all the junior staff and officials working in that organisation whose birthday falls in that month. It will make it possible for them to know you better, Sir, and you can get to know the people who work so hard and who you never get to see, I suggested rather naively. He did not even bother to acknowledge my suggestion with a comment. He simply raised his eye brows and dismissed it !!

Even the washrooms are segregated ----almost every sarkari building has a washroom for the aam janata and another for the officers. The Mantris , of course, are a cut above and enjoy the privilege of washrooms adjunct to their "chamber". I wonder how they cope when they visit shopping malls and cinema complexes, or go sight seeing in India or abroad. They have to drop their pretensions, don't they?

Till these barriers break down, I don't see greater empathy for citizens burgeoning in the hearts of those who govern ----- when most of THEM are treated like second class citizens, and some of them get away with treating themselves as royalty, how does one expect any of them to treat those they govern as their equals ??