Forms carefully filled, procedures checked and driving skills sharpened, does one stand a good chance of getting a driving license? Considering the general experience at RTOs, there can never be an answer in the affirmative every time.
That absolutely nobody believes that licenses can be procured without paying bribes is the least of the RTO’s troubles. The department is fogged by confusions regarding procedures and mired in beaurocracy. Touts and agents at every RTO offering free, quick license in exchange for a few hundred rupees are commonplace. When it is not allegations of corruption, it is the irregularities in rules that hound the RTO’s public image. Numerous people have had their patience and conviction put to test by the pillar-post marathons they are made to run in pursuit of illogical NOCs. The dreariest reality is the fact that none of what has been mentioned comes as a surprise to anyone.
Of the nearly two dozen people that were spoken to, most had anecdotes to recite. “No one clears the test the first time” is what Dileep, an engineer with an MNC, was told when he took his driving test. He believes that he was ‘evaluated even before the test’ and duly failed the first time. The second time, after the stipulated one week, he was told that the ‘documents were not ready’, ‘the photograph was not of the right dimensions’ and similar things, each of the following three times he visited the Kormangala RTO. He finally got his DL in May 2007, having applied in February. He says that paying a bribe was not an option he considered, though nobody actually asked for it.
“Go to that counter there…”
Inefficiency, lame excuses and the devil-may-care attitude (which comes free with the Government Office Experience™) aside, what is unusual about this case is how easily this routine is accepted as a part of beurocracy. Shreenivas, a resident of Maharashtra, was told at the Yeshwantpur RTO that his passport, proof of employment and proof of temporary residence were not sufficient to prove legitimacy for a license in Karnataka (in spite of the rulebook, clearly saying otherwise). The 4-wheeler LL was, after much unpleasant noise, finally passed on the Driving School instructor’s insistence.
Later at the driving test for a 2-wheeler, he was asked why he was riding a vehicle he did not own. “I had borrowed a friend’s two wheeler, and there is no rule that says I can’t drive a borrowed vehicle at the test” he says. Again, the driving instructor intervened and pushed a note the inspector’s way to clear the test. When he applied for an International Driving Permit (IDP) 6 months later, the officials couldn’t comprehend why his Driving License had a Maharashtra address on it. The Yeshwantpur RTO officials demanded a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the Maharashtra RTO. When contacted, the RTO at his hometown in Maharashtra expressed inability to issue an NOC for a license it had no role in.
When in doubt, go to a Driving School
Time was running out for Shreenivas, and he took the route everybody takes after chasing the proverbial wild geese, but to no avail. The RTO was clearly inconsistent with its rules, and refused to issue him a DL. As his US trip loomed large, Shreenivas approached the Addl. Commissioner of Traffic Police who listened to him patiently, and gave the designated Road Transport Officer at Yeshwantpur a rather good piece of his mind.
Going back to the RTO cleared things up for Shreenivas and understandably, their demeanor changed. Shreenivas was issued a brand new DL bearing the Bangalore address and then an IDP, all in a span of 15 minutes. To cut a long story short, “they were not clear about their own rules and refused to acknowledge their iniquities” says Shreenivas.
“Yes, maybe there was corruption at certain levels a few years ago, but things are very easy now” says a Driving School Instructor, smiling innocuously, when asked if it is indeed difficult to get a license without the aid of agents or schools. While casually questioning people on experiences at RTOs, the most offered suggestion was “Go to a driving school, it’s really simple.” Explain to them that you want to get it done without ‘under-the-table’ (read monetary) transactions and they, well, laugh. “I applied for my license through a driving school too…and I knew how to drive anyway” says one with a telltale smile. “With a driving school, at least, somebody else does the dirty work” says another.
Novel Methods: Enter RTI
Sathish Sundaram discovered that he could transfer his US driving permit to India through a simple test. When he approached the Indiranagar RTO, they would have none of it. The RTO website states that international transfer of Driving Permits requires only a test on rules and signs and no driving proficiency test but the Indiranagar RTO seemed to have a rulebook of their own. He was asked to take a driving test since the US followed a right hand driving system as against left hand driving in India. He admits that the confusing logic was to an extent convincing.
Sathish, a volunteer at Association for India’s Development (AID) an NGO that regularly works with RTI, then filed an RTI application, asking for information on the rules and fee for licensing.
Like the pattern goes, the inspectors did a volte face on encountering the RTI application. Gone was the air of superiority and high-handedness. “His tone was entirely different thereafter” recounts Sathish. They didn’t want to take the application and he was, through a circuitous route, sent to the Assistant RTO. The ARTO offered to help him, checked all the documents and asked Sathish to take the driving test anyway. When Sathish persisted with the RTI application, the RTO cautioned that he would either help him get a DL or accept the application and not both. Sathish settled for the DL, and the ARTO later admitted that it was indeed the RTI application that had gotten them working. His RTI application, though, was not accepted officially.
Worth the effort?
“It was immensely satisfying to get my license processed with RTI’s help” says Sathish Sundaram. It shows how useful an accessory RTI can be, to challenge officials that mislead civilians with cryptic rules.
“The RTOs suffer from a lack of communication, owing to non-digitizing of records. At this rate, people can get a license in every state of India and get away with it!” exclaims Shreenivas.
All of them agree that it takes conviction and perseverance to take the clean route. In Sathish’s case, it’s all thanks to his job which would let him take time out to make repeated visits to RTOs. “To people that will take the same path, I recommend lots of time and patience” says Shreenivas.
Lokayukta – hands tied
On its part, the Lokayukta has commissioned notice boards in all RTOs urging citizens to not give bribes or entertain agents and with contact details of the Lokayukta office for registering complaints.
The frustration is palpable in his tone as a senior Lokayukta official explains that the Lokayukta does not have the powers to conduct investigations unless it receives complaints. He points at how the Lokayukta Santosh Hegde has constantly been demanding Suo Moto powers from the government. “The Upalokayukta can keep various cadres at the lower work levels in check but not beyond. The law allowing for direct investigations up to the chief minister’s level was passed initial
ly but withdrawn after six months” he says.
The Lokayukta has conducted many raids against disproportionate assets but nothing to directly accost errant RTO officials. He pensively expresses disappointment at the people who come forward with complaints initially only to back out later.
This article should not be taken for just another polemic against a government office. But it is almost frightening how nothing about the goings on at RTOs surprises people. The issue is like a carcass buried deep, with no visible signs of it being smelly and unacceptable. Is this because of a society that has subconsciously taken it for granted, or is it resigning to what cannot be changed?
Questions are asked, routinely, about governance, security and infrastructure. But why is all quiet on the RTO front? ⊕