Ease of living: easier said than done

People queue outside a bank to exchange and deposit their old high denomination banknotes in Masuda village in the desert Indian state of Rajasthan, India, November 15, 2016. REUTERS/Himanshu Sharma

The Modi government is fond of coining new and catchy phrases. The latest in the official lexicon is ‘ease of living’, which has captured the pride of place from the more conventional ‘ease of doing business’. Surely, most people are concerned with the convenience of daily living more than the ease/difficulty of starting or conducting a business.

No doubt, with the use of technology, things have improved a lot over the years. With the facility for online filing and speedier resolution of income tax returns, booking of LPG cylinder through mobile phone, banking through the internet, payments of bills (like municipal taxes, electricity and phone), fines/penalties (like traffic violation) with e-wallets, credit/debit cards (along with the associated OTP) and so on.

At the same time, things could have been a lot better on the ground if more attention was paid to the implementation issues and more accountability was built into the system for faulty implementation. The fact is, officials are never short of ideas but are poor at implementing them. Part of the reason could be that the officials, because of their exalted status and influence in our system, do not have to suffer having to perform the daily chores of existence like other ordinary mortals. They can always get out-of-turn services.

Some of the hardships to common people from moves like demonetisation and introduction of GST could have been avoided if the government and the officials concerned had planned better - printing sufficient number of Rs 500 notes, advance recalibration of ATMs to accommodate new notes of different sizes, more pilot studies to identify the problems and possible glitches with the new GST rules and forms etc.

Again, cash is not available in several ATMs across the country and is causing much avoidable hardship. Part of the reason is the contracts for supplying ink and security threads expiring in March and the announcement about not printing Rs 2,000 notes, which led to hoarding. And this is not a one-off incident. This is a manifestation of the deep-rooted systemic implementation deficit.

Let me give a few more instances from personal experience. The government has decided that, henceforth, all payments by India Post, like paying the maturity value of different postal savings schemes, to its depositors would be directly credited to their postal savings bank accounts, instead of the earlier system of issuing cheques to the depositors which they could deposit/cash in any bank account.

So, now if the depositor wants to make any payment to another person, he/she has to draw a cheque on his/her postal bank account. Our nearby post office (Dover Lane, Kolkata) has not been able to issue new cheque books to its depositors as it has run out of stock for at least the last four months. Depositors without cheque books are facing severe difficulties as they cannot make any payment to others by cheque or invest the money in any scheme other than in the postal department. During the same period, on several occasions, I could not even withdraw cash from either the post office or from our bank (UBI) as there was ‘link failure’, which lasted for several days.

Such problems arise because sufficient planning is not made before introducing a change and no official would have to pay any penalty for not arranging to print the sufficient number of cheque books or for prolonged ‘link failure’.

Recently, I had to go to a mobile phone service provider to get my Aadhaar number and biometric details verified. Luckily, I did not face any problem. But even during my short stay in that office, I found one semi-literate lady and an old gentleman not being able to verify their Aadhaar identifications as their fingerprints did not match with the UID records. The officials could not help them with any suggestion about what to do next. I shudder to think what would happen to such people who would not be able to link their Aadhaar to their mobile phones or bank accounts by the deadline.

As part of e-governance, many state governments, such as in West Bengal, have got all the land records digitised, which should be accessible online by entering some details like names of owners, location etc. I tried it several times on my home computer. Because of some software issues on the portal, it simply did not go through beyond a point. Then, I requested a land revenue officer in the West Bengal government to provide me with a copy of the records. He could get it done through his office, which shows that people like him would not face any problem.

Recently, I received an SMS on my mobile phone from the Kolkata Traffic Police (KTP) that “PUC (Pollution Under Control) certificate against vehicle number XXXX has expired. If already renewed, please fill the details thru a form along with a scanned copy of your PUC certificate.” I emailed them back saying: “I have already renewed the PUC certificate about two weeks before the expiry date. I believe my duty/responsibility ended there. I am sure KTP got the information about the expiry date of my earlier PUC from some PUC centre. If so, you should also get the information automatically about the renewal of PUC from the centre where I got it renewed. If that is not done, it is the fault of the KTP system and you should set it right.”

All KTP could have said was, “If already renewed, please ignore this message”. But they did not say that. So, I continued, “When the government talks about ‘ease of living’, imposing this additional requirement of filling in a form with a scanned copy of renewed PUC amounts to harassment and makes life a lot more difficult for a law-abiding senior citizen like me. Please respond.”

I am yet to receive a reply from the Kolkata Traffic Police.

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(The author is a former professor of Economics at IIM-Calcutta)

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Ease of living: easier said than done

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