I’m sat in the immigration office in Chennai and writing this post, waiting for the office boy to deliver some paper work to me.
It’s a shame to see the wheels of Indian bureaucracy are still rusted together.
An Indian friend once told me that 80% of taxes in India go on paying for govt staff and govt pensions. If you visit any Indian govt office, you can well believe it.
The confusion starts from the moment you enter the grounds of the offices, which doubles as the passport office and loads of smaller ministry offices. The only way to find out where to go is to ask someone. Signs and maps would be expecting too much.
You then find the right office, down a small side street and a notice says welcome to hell. Or bureau of immigration, it depends which way you look at it.
There is a man sitting behind the most ridiculously small desk and he silently waves you to a guy standing nearby. This new guy waves you to a line of seats. You look around and guy #3 points to a seat you should take.
Every few minutes another soul enters the gates of hell and you all shuffle along, under the direction of guy #3.
It turns out that guy #3’s job also involves preventing any Indians coming in to the office.
So, you finally get back to guy #1 behind the desk and he takes a note of your passport number and the reason why you dare interrupt them in their important jobs. No doubt it’s the job of someone else to enter this data on a typewriter and then for a superior to enter it in a computer.
Guy #1 then allows you in to the office (guy #4, who’s guarding the entrance moves aside) and tells you to go to office one. You get directed by guy #5 to take a seat and the whole shuffling process starts again, under the direction of guy #6.
Standing outside office one is guy #7. When a door bell rings, it’s his job to wave the next foreigner in line in to the office. You don’t see the previous foreigner come out of the office.
So now you are dealing with your 2nd guy behind a desk, and guy #8 overall. He goes through your paperwork, desperate to find a mistake or missing piece of paper. He went through mine 3 times before, to his absolute delight, he found one of my request letters was addressed to ‘whom it may concern’ instead of the ‘frro officer’.
Once they find a mistake, that’s it. The whole process comes to a stop. You are ordered to bring back the proper paperwork and he won’t look at anything else or give you any more information until it’s corrected.
So, you bring back the corrected paperwork and with great reluctance guy #8 concedes that your paperwork is adequate for the next stage and you are directed to your third desk.
Enter guy #9 to direct you to your seats and guy #10 to show you to the desk (which is almost 4ft from where you are sitting). The seat shuffling continues.
This time a lady goes through your paper work and agrees, like her colleague, that it is barely adequate. She then asks you for Rs 20,000 for the registration fee, which is fine because you took 40k, just to be safe.
She watches you like a hawk as you count out 20 1k bills. Then with absolute glee in her eyes, she tells you that they no longer accept cash. Yes, I was prepared for this too and brought out my cheque book. No, she says, we only accept bankers drafts now.
So I am now sat here writing this. I phoned my company and told them the details. It absolutely must get here by 12.30 I said, otherwise i have to wait until tomorrow. No problem, it will be there, they promised.
It’s now 12.45 and I am still waiting. Don’t know what will happen, but i’m hoping i can still make the payment.
The lady scrutinizes the bank draft hoping for some problems. I am now the only person left in the office.
I’m given a token and told to wait for my number to come up. Guy #12 shows me to a new room, guy #13 to show me where to sit. The room is empty.
Eventually the counter staff (girl #2) notices I’m waiting. A difficult task in an empty room, to be sure. Eye contact is made, I can go over.
But wait, she raises a hand to tell me to stop. A button has to be pressed first.
“Counter number two please” says the recorded voice. And her counter light flashes.
There is not a flicker of embarrassment on her face.
I may now go over.
Once more, the paper work is checked, double checked, triple checked and then again, just because.
“aha!” she exclaims “you need two copies of all these documents.”
“Behold” I replied and pulled out 3 more copies of all the paper work, flourishing them in the air.
It was evident that I had robbed her of a simply joy as she ruffles through the paper work again. Oh dear. The original registration permit is not here. It’s not mentioned in the list of required paperwork given to me on the first visit, but no matter. How dare I try and beat the system by turning up with all the correct paperwork and correct number of copies.
Another call to the office. Send more documents! Within 10 minutes it’s in my hand, but hell, err Bureau of Immigration has a final sting in the tail. The counter lady has gone for lunch. Please wait for an hour.