A brush with the great Indian bureaucracy

I returned to Dubai and realised how fortunate I was to live in a city that allows you to breeze in and out of the airport using e-Gate counters and get your jobs done by producing the Emirates ID.

By Anthony F D'Silva (Life)

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Published: Sat 26 Oct 2019, 9:31 PM

Last updated: Sat 26 Oct 2019, 11:46 PM

I made a remarkable discovery recently: people in India spend most of their energy in either filling out forms or commuting long distances. Of the two, I can't decide which one is a greater evil.
I was on a short trip to Mumbai, all geared up to attend to half a dozen long-pending jobs. I had promised myself, come hell or monsoon rains, I will complete all tasks. Having lived in Dubai for nearly 25 years - where most tasks can be completed by just producing the Emirates ID - I was a bit apprehensive about the Indian system. But nothing prepared me for the ground reality.
My first encounter was with my bank in Mumbai. I had some stock shares that I had bought nearly 30 years ago and they had to be necessarily dematted - a task I have been putting off for a number of years.
In general, banks are a beehive of chaotic activity in India. The relationship manager was busy with a clutch of customers, so I waited patiently and used the time productively by deleting six-month-old Whatsapp videos on my phone. A good 70 minutes later, I was ushered in.
There was a barrage of questions. Do you have a PAN card? Yes. Aadhar Card? No. Why?
Because NRIs don't need one. The manager got up to check with the senior manager who reluctantly agreed, to my great relief. Do you have proof of address? Well, I live in Dubai, and I don't have a local address in India. "But we need proof of address. Don't you have Dubai address proof?" After racking my brain, I managed to retrieve a Dewa bill from my email. Would that do? Maybe.
All this took quite a while, even as the lady (the manager) checked with her superior at regular intervals. Interruptions by other customers delayed the process. So, how many shares do I have? About 10, I said. She frowned a little and called the peon to produce the forms who returned with the cheering news that the branch had run out of demat forms and the new supply was expected in the afternoon. Three hours gone by without achieving anything. I returned in the afternoon, and collected the forms. 'Please fill them in triplicate. And you can't use carbon paper. Fill in each one individually,' I was told. I walked out weighed down by the thought of filling out so many forms.
Job number two was to update my status regarding some mutual funds whose name has since changed. I brace myself for a tsunami of questions. Do you have KYC (Know Your Customer)? You don't have a one? Here are some forms you need to fill in.'
More forms? And it did not end there. They needed a self-attested PAN card, Aadhaar Card, passport copy, and, you guessed it, proof of address. But I was ready for that, thank you. I happily produced my Dewa bill only to find that my surname was misspelt.
That's a typo, I said lifelessly. Instead of an 'a' they have put an 's'. No big deal.
No big deal? The great Indian bureaucratic monster follows the rules to a T. My driving licence and Emirates ID had no mention of the address. 'You don't have a bank passbook?' the lady asked. "No. What's a passbook?' She glared and simply said, "Never mind. You will have to give proof of address. That's the rule."
So, Day One of my great brush with the Indian bureaucracy engine ended disastrously.
As for the rest of the encounters of the red-tape kind, the less said the better. Mastering all the patience and calmness I could gather, I managed to complete some of the tasks.
I returned to Dubai and realised how fortunate I was to live in a city that allows you to breeze in and out of the airport using e-Gate counters and get most of your jobs done by merely producing the Emirates ID.
Anthony F. D'Silva is a Dubai-based writer and PR consultant.

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