Sometime back there was a scathing article on the functioning of the Pune’s R.T.O. (Regional Transport Office) in the Citizen magazine. I too had written a letter commenting on the malfunctioning of the R.T.O.
Today, the common man identifies bureaucracy with inefficiency and delay. Hence my expectations were no different when I went to apply for a temporary driving licence, but I was in for a wonderful and pleasant surprise.
When I arrived at the scene of action, armed with all the certificates and documents, I soon found myself ‘face-to-face’ with the inevitable tout who began harassing me.I softly but firmly refused to deal with him. Instead I headed towards the temporary Learner’s Licence office. There I was instructed to first have a look at an exhibition organized on the premises. I soon found the place and I tell you, it was just great fun. Fun? Yes fun, for there were all sorts of hilarious cartoons parodying the traffic scenes. They also, though in a very subtle manner, infused some traffic sense into me.
In fact the hall was all abuzz with laughter and excitement. Next the ‘Officer-in-charge’ handed me a printed leaflet. On skimming through it, I learnt some useful things. For instance I found out that it is a legal offense if a rickshaw driver refused to take his customer to a certain place. This however is a common feature in our city. Surprised, aren’t you? Well, so was I. There was also an element of humor. We had statements like – ‘Safety’on road is ‘Safe tea’ at home. Then there was one in Marathi, ‘Palale naheet vahatukeche niyam, tar nakki bhetel Mr. Yam.’ (Roughly translated it means that if you were to disregard traffic rules, then you are certain to meet Lord Yamaraj – the God of Death in the Indian mythology).
Next we formed a queue in front of the office and were soon allowed inside a room where arrangements were made for us to sit and relax while we waited for our turn. Saying ‘kudos’ to the authorities for their thoughtfulness cannot be avoided.
There were big boards and banners in Marathi as well as in English, which acquainted all to the road signs and the traffic rules & regulations. I felt happy to note the noble intentions of the authorities in trying to prevent accidents.
Each and every applicant was questioned about the traffic rules and those who did not seem to be well versed with the information were sent back to the familiarize themselves with the traffic rules. Finally it was my turn and much to my disappointment, I found out that I had forgotten to bring along my ‘Original’ Ration Card and ‘SSC’ Certificate – mandatory documents as per the procedure. I was so disappointed when I explained my predicament to the ‘Officer’. He was kind enough to allow me to go home and fetch the documents. In the meantime he kept my work aside and took it up promptly again on my return.
I then paid Rs. 15 /- as fees, filled out my licence, and affixed my photograph. It was checked and duly stamped by the ‘Officer’. And lo behold !, my driving licence was ready.
I was a bit dazed as were the others around me. I heard a girl ask in surprising tone, “Is that all? What do I have to do next?” To this the ‘Officer’ smiled and replied, “Drive the vehicle carefully.” We all shared a hearty laugh and came out.
While returning, I met the same tout who looked at me in anticipation. Gleefully, I waved my new possession enjoying the disgruntled look on his face. It was perhaps childish, but I was delighted to snub him down.
Now my dear friends, I don’t know what the R.T.O. of yesteryear was like, but the present day R.T.O., I confess, won my approval and admiration. What had seemed to be a tedious task just 24 hours back was accomplished with such ease.
I have observed that the local R.T.O. is often criticized and viewed unfavorably by the common Puneite. All the hue and cry we constantly raise about the corruption there has brought it infamy and notoriety.
However I still feel that ultimately the onus of the blame lies with us, for it is we, who by giving in to the whims and fancies of the agents, encourage corrupt practices. If all of us unite and decide to put an end to the malpractices and insist on getting our work done through the proper channel, I do not see any reason for the continuation of corrupt practices.
It is never too late. Wake up to the facts and adopt the right way. Don’t go in for any shortcuts and give the R.T.O. a ‘fair trial’ to prove itself.
I have, for once, promised myself that when I go to the R.T.O. the next time to get my permanent Driving Licence, I will approach them with a positive attitude. In my concluding remarks, I would like to say, ‘Thanks to all agents and touts, but no thanks. I am capable of handling the matter myself!’
The article appeared in ‘Have Your Say’ column in the supplement of a local newspaper ‘Indian Express’ in Pune, India on June 10 1995.
I can’t help but smile on the sheer youthful exuberance that I felt on obtaining a temporary Driving Licence. Of course one must not forget that this was a very different era, a time before ‘globalization’ had fully arrived on the scene to drive up our expectations as a consumer who could ‘demand’ good and convenient service even from the Government bodies and a time before one was also armed with the ‘RTI’ tool to prevent corrupt practices and demand accountability.