Why Did Mr ‘Kutta’ Sorry, ‘Dutta’ Bark To Get His Name Changed On Ration Card?

That incident is a commentary on how our official machinery works without a built-in responsive redressal system and how a common man is pushed to resort to active or passive violence out of sheer frustration of not being heard or served.

Shri Kutta! Does it sound weird?

Yes, that’s how he would have been officially addressed because the spelling of his surname in the official record tells just that – had Shri Srikanti Kutta (Dutta) of Bankura not protested.

Dutta was determined and was made of sterner stuff.

After repeatedly failing to move the authorities to make a valid change of the name on his ration card, he chose to stage a protest in the most non-violent and creative way. He took his appeal to the head of the organisation for the fourth time and instead of requesting the authorities with folded hands wearing a hangdog look, he yelped and whined like a snarling dog much to the chagrin of the BDO in full public view. The video became viral on social media.

The visibly upset BDO took up this urgent matter personally. Not reported in the press, it would have taken hours to sort out the matter. Our experience says that things get done once you make it too hot for them to sit over it any longer. This ‘unimportant’ matter involving a ‘non-descript’ man became ‘urgent’ not because the officer was appalled on discovering the rot of inefficiency in his office but because he saw the rage and determination of Sri Dutta to take on the system and embarrass all of them publicly. As the adage goes ‘The creaking wheel got the oil’. Just assess the harassment, wastage of time, loss of reputation, and human efforts involving so many people for such a small thing.

Why did it reach this stage? Was it necessary?

Quirky stories like Dutta’s keep appearing in the newspapers regularly such as, ‘Man wins a 25-year-long litigation to recover the two rupees he was charged extra by the TTC’, ‘Man letting lose a sack full of snakes in the office of the revenue officer who was not heeding his request’.

This news of Mr Kutta (Dutta by now) might have given us a few mirthful moments on the morning of December 19, but a much bigger and painful truth behind the incident should not be brushed aside. Why a sense of duty and responsibility are not the tracks on which the administrative juggernaut moves automatically? Things move either out of someone’s goodness, or interest or under pressure. Why?

What are the organisational safeguards against it?

That incident is a commentary on how our official machinery works without a built-in responsive redressal system and how a common man is pushed to resort to active or passive violence out of sheer frustration of not being heard or served.

Some react like Mr Dutta, some exert pressure to make things move, and the wise ones devise ways to manage (sic) the obstacles and get their thing done. But no one talks about what to do to institutionalise responsibility and accountability for performance and prevent the officers in charge to go scot-free of their delinquencies.

We are socially conditioned not to see the elephant in the room. But how long?

To explain what I mean, let us discuss this Kutta to Dutta resolution episode. Did anyone (The BDO in this case) ask his office the following questions to permanently solve the problem in the system?

  • Why was his name entered erroneously?
  • Was the person recording the names not familiar with the Bengali surnames?
  • Why were his first three appeals not responded to?
  • Who was responsible and what was the valid explanation for not effecting the correction?
  • What do the rules say about such wilful negligence?
  • Does it go to his performance assessment?
  • At what stage does the feedback from the public form a part of his assessment?
  • If the BDO could resolve the issue in hours what disciplinary action was taken on the people who were plain deaf to the first three requests?
  • What did their departmental inquiry unravel?

We all have some experience of dealing with such stone-deaf people, for whom your reason, duty, and responsibility are not strong enough to make him lift his pen to a piece of paper to put his signature below a half-page note. He can sit on mountains of unattended files for months and no one has the power to ask him about them. It doesn’t matter how convincing or valid your request is or how acute your situation is; your fate is determined by the whims and fancies of the person you are dealing with. They feel empowered to harass the common man. Harassments like this can turn one murderous if one is passing through personal difficulties.

We all know that there exists a world where the words like duty, responsibility, and accountability are nowhere mentioned in one’s job description. KRA and KPI and efficiencies are a strange composition of alphabets.

Not long ago, to qualify as a capable householder in a city, one had to have contacts in the Civil Supply Department to get some extra kerosene or sugar beyond one’s quota, DoT JE to get your telephone line timely repaired, an electricity linesman for ensuring early response to a fuse-off the call, LPG distributor for that out of turn gas connection or a refill, cinema hall manager for blocking tickets of a hit movie. Many hobnobbed with MPs for an LPG connection, telephone line, and a seat in a Central School.

Luckily, things changed for the better and one can lead a respectable life without having to develop a friendship with such people for ensuring their legitimate rights for basic service delivery. Now, only PhDs in most of the state universities are dependent on such personal contact with the supervisor and his relationship with the clerks, big and small in the department. You earn a degree not on your merit as your right but are rewarded for your good relationship with the powers in the system as gratis. Hope it changes soon.

This is not limited to state-owned organisations. Most of the big organisations are blind to their vendor management practices or after-sales service performance. Try calling a toll-free number of a big bank to block your lost credit card or an IVR system of a big white goods company you are to get certain parts not available at the local dealership dispatched to understand what I mean.

If something has worked so far, you are lucky, if there is a hitch, you are plain unlucky.

Just buying a flight ticket in a deal, having a hotel booking in hand, or buying health insurance online won’t give you the expected service assurance, one has to be prepared for their denials citing various clauses and terms and conditions written in fine print somewhere in their documents and have a plan B for those situations.

We know how difficult it is to deal with virtual offices for an insurance claim settlement or to get a refund for a cancelled flight or hotel booking. I am now in the midst of such a refusal-settlement issue with OYO Rooms where my prepaid room booking was flatly dishonoured by their property partner in Delhi. You must have the grit of Mr Dutta to write reams of emails to get them to work.

But then such determination is not commonly found. And the organisations and their officials know that.

In these cases, the owners of the organisations and their representing officials know too well that they can continue to be in business as usual by creating a public perception through advertisements and serving those rare hot dissatisfied voices only to silence them. Changing the system for better service and higher accountability is not needed for business continuity.

Oh, now I am reminded of a chronic problem with my BSNL cell phone connection which I can’t neglect anymore. When my phone is out of network coverage area, the calls are getting diverted to the number of a certain lady in Basta, Balasore who is treating my callers with the choicest of expletives to vent her frustration. Who likes being inundated with calls trying to speak to a person with an unfamiliar name?

To deal with the problem first, I have to draft a long application detailing my problem, then personally go to the right officer sitting in some numbered rooms on the right floor of the right office building, and if I am lucky, find him on his seat and in a mood to speak to me. If he believes my story and receives my application then go to him again and again over the next one month to follow up and get it resolved by finally discovering some contact who is in a higher position than this officer through six degrees of separation. This process will take me no less than a month. Am I prepared for the ordeal?

I am not so helpless as now I have a choice.

The choice is that either I voluntarily go through the ordeal or apply for number portability through an online portal.

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