Published: November 1st 2010November 1st 2010
Gone to Lunch
The look of empty bureaucracy
One of the most loved (not) tasks of being a volunteer in India is going through the process of getting one’s visa extended. Not only do the rules change in every state across the country - but the rules change over time within any one state. Relief is on the way apparently - by about 2013 we are told, the Indian Government is committing itself to finally recognizing that volunteers are here to HELP India and are not the enemy to have every possible barrier known to bureaucracy placed in their way! Visas and extensions for volunteers will (we are promised) become a streamlined process.
So it’s day one of my quest to get his visa renewed - mind you this means it’s 3 months before the current 1 year work visa expires, but you need to start early if you have any chance of getting it through the red tape in time. The first task it to get a receipt (called a ‘chalan’) from the Treasury Branch of the State Bank of India showing that the government fees have been paid for the new visa - this has to then be presented together with a myriad of other paper work to the Foreigner Registration Office within the local Police offices. Sounds simple enough?
I am on a winner because a local mate happens to work in the Treasury and meets me at 11am with the blank “triplicate” copy of the chalan form. This act alone has got to have saved me an hour. I then also get taken to a guy who is able to look up the current US$ to Indian Rupee exchange rate (because in its wisdom - the Indian government sets the fee in US$s in stead of fixing to a set number of rupees). Good - got that. Now Treasury stamps and initials the triplicate form (three places of course). Wow - I have done all that in less than an hour. This is going to be a breeze!
Then - around the block to the Reserve Branch of the State Bank of India - up the stairs to pay the chalan in cash. The place has a queue across the entire length of the room - I hope there is a short cut so I go to the “Manager” desk to ask what the deal is.
M: “Please sit down”
P: “I just want to ask a question…..”
M: “Please sit down”
He is slowly entering amounts from other chalans into a computer program - he takes 15 minutes to complete his pile.
P: “I just want to know where to pay the chalan”
M: “You must join this line”
P: “But couldn’t you have told me that 15 minutes ago?”
No response. Then
M: “if you had a Bank Draft I could have done it for you”
I line up for 45 minutes and the line moves 2 inches. He decides to leave and go across town to the central State Bank of India office (you can’t get Bank Drafts at the Treasury Branch). This goes well enough and I am back 40 minutes later with the Bank Draft.
The Manager now says to go up to the next floor to present the draft (he does not in fact offer to do it for me!) - simple enough. I climb the stairs - find Mr Patnaik who looks at the draft and declares “I cannot process - it is made out to the Reserve Bank of India - it needs to be made out to the State Bank of India”. I ask what I can do.
Mr P: “Go to the customer relations manager across the room there”
OK. Mr Mohanty (the Customer Relations Manager) is now at lunch - he returns 25 minutes later only to say “We cannot process this - it needs to be made out to the State Bank of India”. I appeal to him and he says “Go and see Mr Sohoo across the room there and he can allow”. Mr Patnaik happens to be there at Mr Mohanty’s desk and shows me exactly where to go - so helpful.
Mr Sohoo is now at lunch and returns 30 minutes later. “I cannot process - it is made out to the Reserve Bank of India - it needs to be made out to the State Bank of India”. I appeal as a helpless ferrangi. He says if I have my passport (I do) he can allow (special case). That takes about 2 minutes. NOW I am set to move to Mr Patnaik’s desk again (two down).
Mr Patnaik is now at lunch! He comes back 1 hour later. He approves (the chalan now has a myriad of stamps and initials on it) and motions me across the room to the cashier who puts on the final stamp and initials.
It’s over - for now. I am almost tearful in gratitude - feeling completely disempowered and defeated. It is now 4 pm.
I go to the police with the chalan and other paper work only to find that I have been given the wrong information in the first place - because I have a work visa and I need to pay US$180, not US$80 required for an special X visa usually given to volunteers.
[names have been changed to protect the guilty!]