Governments- you love them or you hate them, but you can’t live without them testing your patience. In many ways an individual’s relationship with the state is preparation for marriage, because you realise that the person on the other side, as annoying as he or she maybe, is also inevitable.
In the span of the last two years, I have had the good fortune of lecturing at both private and government institutions and in both instances, the faculties I have met and the students I have interacted with have astounded me and left me feeling inspired by what is possible for the future of this nation. But I can’t help but wonder, if these wonderful students and lecturers in private institutions enjoy certain perks that the ones in government establishments don’t.
This question emerged after a little bit of a exchange of some pleasant conversation around a not so pleasant topic- providing a travel allowance bill for expenses that I wasn’t even claiming. It so happens that the Government in its infinite wisdom has mandated that copies of the individual’s boarding pass is to be secured as proof of the journey having been made. However, like always I had destroyed the boarding pass and therefore I offered to provide an undertaking that I had in fact completed the journey for which the boarding pass was sought. The news didn’t inspire appreciation from the faculty at the government institution. She seemed a little flummoxed and while pleading her position as a government employee asked the question, “I don’t know what prompted you to destroy the boarding pass….”. Perhaps she was inquisitive or perhaps she was being rhetorical. The naïve individual I am, I decided to answer her question.
The boarding pass contains sensitive personal information in a code. In the right hands or the wrong ones, it could yield rich data that can be misused for all kinds of things. Therefore, out of concern for my own privacy, I always shred the boarding pass many many times as soon as I have completed my journey. In the digital age, one can’t be prudent enough after all. In other words- I was prompted by my awareness and understanding to shred the boarding pass, a necessity our own government which is paranoid of national security is unaware of, from the looks of it.
However, I also wanted to ensure that I didn’t put the faculty in a difficult position and looked up government regulations on the subject. Turns out, that my faculty friend didn’t have much to worry about. The Government circular of 2014 actually says that where original boarding pass is not available, the concerned individual can submit the Travel Allowance bill with a written undertaking. Having represented the government of India and government institutions, I would like to believe that our government is not that anal. Governments can’t be anal, only its people can be so. What can I say? once a lawyer, always a lawyer. Couldn’t help but provide some legal advise.
My research into the shredding of the boarding pass for an expense of Rs. 5,000/- was driven by empathy for the faculty in question as well as a certain anxiety that I might have unwittingly painted a legitimate transaction as an illegitimate one, by not having a paper to fortify my physical arrival and departure at the institution’s campus. Witnesses to my presence and absence be damned, the boarding pass seemed to be the only credible testimony of my existence on those fateful days at the fateful place. In hindsight, anxiety for what? If folks in the bureaucracy realised I was anxious about a 5000 ruppee transaction, they might have enrolled me into a group support program authored by the Suresh Kalmadis and A Raja’s of the world.
Contrast this with a similar journey I had undertaken for a private institution- far from being required to explain the perils of boarding passes in today’s world, I was treated like royalty, hosted well and sent off even better. Make no mistake, the people, the faculties and the students in both places touched my heart and left me with a life time of good memories. But while the good faculties were allowed to be good, friendly and hospitable in the private institution, the good faculties in the government institution were working in an atmosphere of irrational red tape, misplaced sense of accountability and therefore had their hospitality and warmth trumped by the coldness of government’s paranoia…over Rs. 5,000/-. Why curtail them in this manner?
Indian’s excel at cons, no doubt about it. I am sure travel allowances have been used for a little unjust enrichment on the side. Even Amazon and Flipkarts fell for refund scams. Yet, the difference is that Amazon and Flipkart are willing to perceive the erring individual as an aberration, government institution’s policy outlook is driven by the assumption that aberrations are worth more focus than the honest common man. The result is that the government’s ability to forge good long partnerships with interested, keen and self respecting individuals is constricted.
A fundamental rethink is needed on such trivial issues. The excellent men and women who drive our government institutions must be allowed to work in an enabling atmosphere where they represent the government establishment, as a friendly and an easy partner. Instead today, the government is painted as an ever suspicious spouse doubting the moral and financial fidelity and integrity of its partner, that too over a paltry sum of Rs. 5,000/-. For the good and women in these institutions to truly make an impact which we all know they are capable of, they need to be trusted so that in turn they can make outsiders feel trusted. Perhaps then, our public institutions will truly come of age.