NOTE: this is a gross generalization based on my very limited interaction with the administrative services in India (specifically the police commissionerate in Pune). take it with a pinch of whatever you like.
The Scene: lok sabha election time. a doctor and a software engineer have gone to the police commissionerate to get permission for an election rally. everyone is looking at them as if they missed an exit and walked into the wrong neighborhood.
मी: अरुण भाटियांच्या rally ची permission काढायला दिली होती. ती तयार झाली का?
कुंजीर साहेब: अरुण भाटिया?
कुंजीर साहेब: चांगला माणूस
कुंजीर साहेब: आम्ही register पाटील madam कड़े पाठवलय
मी: त्या कुठे असतात?
कुंजीर साहेब: आतल्या office मधे
मी: मी भेटू का जाउन त्यांना?
कुंजीर साहेब: तुम्हीच बघा काय ते. त्यांच्या मनात असेल तर होईल तुमचं काम आज
मी: (same q. to patil female)
पाटील madam: तुमचं नाव काय?
मी: सिद्धार्थ गोरे
(पाटील madam starts humming गोरे गोरे ओ बाके छोरे..)
मी: (मनातल्या मनात) खतरनाक
पाटील madam: तुमच्या सारखी educated लोकं अशी कामं करतात?
पाटील madam: ते permission चं सरपोतदार सरांच्या हातात आहे अता
मी: ते कुठे बसतात?
पाटील madam: cabin मधे. पण बोलावल्या शिवाय जाऊ नका. त्यांना राग येइल.
मी: ते मला का बोलवतील?
पाटील madam: फार प्रश्न विचारता तुम्ही गोरे.
मी: (barging into sarpotdar dude's cabin) rally ची permission तुम्ही देता का तुमचा पण कोणी साहेब आहे, जो सगळं ठरवतो?
our government offices/bureaucracy are not exactly known for their efficiency or customer service (??), so this was to be expected. i always thought that this inefficiency is because govern is welfare based, unlike the corporate world which is merit based (in theory at least :P). i was so wrong.
the problem is not with the people or their merit. people are alright, just like you and me. what is horribly wrong is the environment that they are made to work in. by environment i mean protocols, procedures and systems. the hierarchy is in the air, and its an extremely rigid one. each rung in this ladder hates but fears the one above it and has no mercy/respect when it comes to treating the one below.
i hear such hierarchy exists even in some industries (mechanical i guess) and on assembly lines where humans are used as just hands and legs to perform a repetitive task (which eventually a sophisticated machine can takeover). but a place like police commissionerate or a municipal corporation is as far from an assembly line as it gets. each person walking through that front door has a unique set of problems. mere processes and registers _cannot_ solve these problems efficiently. what it needs is a person with experience, knowledge and authority. kunjir saheb, patil madam et al. had no derth of experience or knowledge. but authority? they just pointed to the guy, one up.
i can understand strict hierarchy on a nuclear submarine. the captain never mixes with his crew, dines separate, sleeps separate, lives separate. this separation is valid, even necessary here because the captain can ask someone in his crew to carry out a task which can potentially endanger his life. to do that task without a seconds hesitation the crew needs to _always_ look up to that post of the captain. would you risk your life because one of your colleague's asks you to, i think not.
but why the hell is, say a municipal commissioner supposed to call a clerk by his first name (even if he is his old man's age) but the clerk has to respond with 'yes Sir'? are millions of lives going to be lost if he treats the clerk with a little more respect?
when the british left this country in 1947, they left behind a system of governance which they had perfected over the last 200 odd yrs to govern a _foreign_ land. the working principle of that system had to be a very strict separation, both physical and psychological, between the ruling (decision making) class and the subordinate staff. how much did we change that system after independence? didn't it occur to our leaders that we need not minor amendments but a total and fundamental overhaul of the entire system?
i guess when the british left, people who took over the administrative services must have said to themselves - dude, we can either dismantle this and create a new, more democratic system or, or we can keep everything exactly the way it is and just slide into all the places where the british used to be. that way _we_ get to rule this country from now on. we just need to keep acting like the british officers and nobody will even notice.
i think they chose option 2 :D