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Every visit to the RTO, some are inevitable if you want to own / drive a vehicle in India, leaves me feeling unclean and violated. One enters in a compound that is a chaotic mix of people and vehicles. Most of the people there are NOT customers of the RTO – they are touts; touts who proposition you at every step, if you look remotely like someone who can pay for getting your work done. The ONLY protection you have against this species is if you are being escorted by one of them. The sheer numbers of these ‘facilitators’ or ‘agents’ is definite pointer to the complexity of interactions and the impenetrability of barriers one would run into for getting anything done. No job is too difficult for the touts and everything comes at a price.

You see these agents everywhere. They set up shop under trees or in the parking lots. The briefcase perched precariously on a two wheeler is the desk where business is conducted. Cell phones have made life even more easy for them. There is nothing that the agent cannot do. Transfers / No objection certificates / registrations / licenses / refunds – they can all be done in a jiffy – you just need the money to spare. You want an International Driving permit immediately? Oops that needs a medical certificate saying you are healthy and can drive. No problem, for a price the tout will get a ‘doctor’ who is standing under some tree with his stamp – ready to attest to your suitability for driving without even looking at you. All the ‘doctor’ wants is his fee. You may be suffering from night-blindness and mow down a few people in the streets – well who cares?

I am amazed at the work that the agents do. You awaken each morning, pack your lunch pail and trudge to the unclean RTO office. There starts the wait for customers. If you are lucky you have already fixed up some client. Else you shoot the breeze with your fellow agents and wait. When you do get a case you go into the office and try and dig out the files from dusty closets, corridors, bathrooms (yes even bathrooms double up as storages). By the way, you are doing this because the clerk whose job it is to locate the file cannot be bothered and he knows that you have an ‘interest’ in getting the file. Then you fill up the forms (the customer has already signed on the blank forms so no issue), make sure all papers are there and then you start to brown-nose various clerks and officers to get clearances. You physically move the document from table to table to get the work done distributing ‘largesse’ all along the way. When the work is done you triumphantly call the client and exaggerate the difficulties of getting it done. You claim that NO ONE ELSE would have been able to do it in the time you took.  You get paid by the client and then start off looking for the next.

Just imagine doing this day in and day out. Hats off to these guys (most of them are male though I have seen a few women around). It is not easy to be a RTO agent. You need patience, a thick skin, a smarmy manner and a complete lack of morals.

The sad part is that the system is completely geared to support the touts. Woe betide  any individual who wants to navigate in this maze and do things herself / himself. (S)he will face unresponsive clerks, nitpicking officials who will demand all sorts of documents that you never dreamt would be needed and a plethora of counters where the form has to be processed. Then there will be threats of repeated visits – enough to make the staunchest and  most well informed citizen quail in fear and run for safety – straight into the arms of the friendly neighbourhood tout! This of course does not apply to celebrities who can get work done in a jiffy at the cost of a few photo-ops. Very recently Amitabh Bachchan informed his twitter followers that he was in and out of the RTO in a few minutes with his license renewed.  But then Amitabh is a superstar. That ease of transaction can rarely, if at all, happen for the common man.

I wonder why

  • No one in the RTO thinks that this is a problem?
  • Computers are not used more effectively and the paperwork deep-sixed?
  • The RTO is so ‘user unfriendly’ that it requires a seasoned agent to navigate? (I don’t buy the argument that it is to prevent misuse – everyone knows that if you have money and the willingness to spread it around illegally you can get ANY document from the RTO in no time – where you have the back-up or not)

The RTO is a classic case of a crying need for administrative reform. The stranglehold of touts must be broken to reduce corruption. For that to happen, procedures MUST be simplified. I am sure they can be without sacrificing security. Is there anybody out there who is listening?

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