The Bureaucratic Way

Mary gets a small widow’s pension from the government every month – Rs. 200, which is almost nothing. She must take a bus to a post office in Adyar to collect it, spending Rs. 10 for the round trip. Once she receives the money she must give a Rs. 10 bribe to the clerk who disbursed it. Yesterday she went there, and was told that the money was ready for disbursement, but that the clerk had gone on leave for three days – so come again. It seems to me that about 50% of the time she has to go at least twice before she gets the money in her hand. She is resigned to it.

Almost everyone here has a ration card. The ration shops sell rice and sugar and kerosene etc. at subsidised rates for the poor. For years we didn’t have a ration card, but we finally applied and got one with great difficulty – it took about six months of going back and forth to the government office concerned. We did it because government agencies often ask to see a ration card as a proof of identification, or of address. Unfortunately, when we got the card the address was written incorrectly, but that’s the way things happen. We allowed the staff to use the card to buy the ration for themselves. The stuff available is of poor quality – yellow rice that smells rancid; coarse sugar full of dirt, etc.

Anyway, last year it was declared that people above a certain income level could no longer buy commodities using the ration card. And they must take it to the ration office and have an “H” – for "Honorary" – stamped on it. The notice in the newspaper to this effect had an almost threatening tone – if you don’t get an “H” on your card, you will never be able to get another ration card ever, etc. etc. So we did that.

In May, elections to the national Parliament were held. Here in Tamil Nadu, the party which governs the state didn’t win a single seat. Taking this as a wake-up call – state elections will be held in two years – the Chief Minister abruptly, and un-subtly, began rolling back a number of policies that were unpopular. Inter alia, she abolished the Honorary ration card system.

Now that there is no such thing, you might think that one could just ignore that letter “H” stamped on the card, right? It has become meaningless, hasn’t it? But no. We must take the ration card back to the ration office, and have the “H” officially cancelled. We must learn to think the bureaucratic way.

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