Quest For The Holy Grail (Well, Almost)

June 3, 2009

It’s true I haven’t mentioned it here for a while, but that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten all about my quest for a khata. Over the past couple of weeks, I went and applied for – and got! – the Encumbrance Certificate. I can’t tell you what it actually certifies, because it’s in Kannada, but at least I have it. It wasn’t difficult at all to get. One day I went and filled out a form (nothing complicated compared to the Property Tax form) and paid some money (for which I got a receipt). That took all of 20 minutes. I went back on the appointed date a week later to pick up the certificate. It was ready and waiting. That took all of five minutes. No waiting, no pestering, no hidden charges. Fantastic.

I ordered the draft for payment of the Khata fees and worked on the Khata application form – also not too daunting to an experienced form-filler like I was by now. Then last week I went back to the Ward office to submit the application. On my first attempt, Mr M wasn’t there, and B told me to come back the next day. On my second attempt, Mr M was there; he took one look at my papers and told me it had to be submitted at the dreaded Mayo Hall. If you’ve already read about my recent experience at Mayo Hall, you’ll know I was not thrilled to get this news.

However, what cannot be cured must be endured; or, to put it another way, if rape is inevitable, better sigh and get to it. So off I went today, application, supporting documents, and bank draft in hand, prepared for another “from-pillar-to-post” ordeal at Mayo Hall. To my surprise, it wasn’t too bad. Or perhaps I’ve now managed to adjust my expectations to more realistic levels.

I reached just after 10.30. The office I’d been told to visit had one person already seated at his desk, meticulously drawing ruled lines on bits of paper and occasionally in a ledger or notebook. (By the way, ‘Khata’ literally translates to ledger or notebook, and also to the accounts kept in one – I think. In Karnataka, it is an all-important document which doesn’t actually prove ownership of a property, but which everyone treats as though it does.)

In a few minutes, a woman appeared. She was quite helpful and told me, in English, to wait for a certain other gentleman who had access to the stamp that was required. Meanwhile, she checked my papers and asked me to get them notarised. By this time, I’d been waiting for half an hour or so already, and the required gentleman was expected any minute now. So I went to the appropriate section of Mayo Hall at top speed, nodded at the first tout who approached me, and showed him my papers.

“Eleven pages,” he said.
“It’s three documents,” I replied indignantly. “How does number of pages matter?”
He nodded readily and said “Rs 300.”
“Rs 100,” I countered, firmly.
“Rs 200, special discount for you,” he said, without flinching.
“Look. There are hundreds of others who will notarise this for me. Rs 100.”‘
“Rs 150, last offer,” he said.
“Done.”
“Wait here,” he said, taking my papers and walking off.

Nothing doing! I followed him to his desk, where, in ten minutes the eleven pages were signed, sealed, and stamped.

“Do you have the originals?” he asked.
“Of course,” I said, nodding to my document case. I didn’t offer to show them to him and he didn’t ask.

I returned to the former office and waited another half hour. The lady took pity on me and offered to sign the receipt for me without stamping it. I hesitated, and the offer was quickly but graciously withdrawn. Damn. Maybe I should have taken her up on it.

After I’d completed about an hour waiting, one of the other officers came over to me and asked what I was waiting for. I told him. “Oh, I’m the case officer for that, I’ll do it,” he said promptly. And five minutes later, I was done.

Of course, I should have been pissed off that I was made to wait for some mythical person who apparently was not required for my work… but I was just happy that my futile waiting had been only about half an hour or so. If you can go to a government office, get your work done, and get out in an hour, I guess you should count yourself lucky.

The next step is to follow up with a name and a number written on the receipt. How long will it take to get the khata? I don’t know – I was only told that there was a backlog of files pending from February, due to work having been held up because of election duties. So I wasn’t given a date or anything – just a name and a mobile number.

If the kids hadn’t already done their utmost to teach me patience, I don’t think I could have made it this far.

This quest is something like a treasure hunt in the mist: you don’t know where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, or what you’re going to find there, and you can see only one step ahead at each stage; but you believe there’s some treasure at the end of the road, whenever and wherever that might be.

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Property Taxed

May 17, 2009

Friday was a busy day. I went to the BBMP office in the morning to follow up on the property tax saga. I had actually been once on Wednesday, when I was given the usual run-around: Go there to pay arrears, then go to the other room for the current year’s payment.” “Sorry, I can’t find your property in the system. Oh, you haven’t ever paid? Then you can’t pay here, go there.” Over there they said, “You’ll need Mr M. He hasn’t come today, try tomorrow.”

In other words, the usual run-around. This office looked smaller, cleaner and more efficient and helpful than Mayo Hall, though, so I was cautiously optimistic that if I hung around and did the rounds patiently enough, I might actually get somewhere.

On Friday morning I called Mr M’s young, helpful, English-speaking flunky, B. He said Mr M would be available around 12.30, so accordingly, I landed up there at 12.30. Mr M took one look at my document, heard my story, and told me to come back with a copy of the registered sale deed, encumbrance certificate and possession certificate. I went home and checked, found I didn’t have the EC and PC, and immediately called B again. He checked with Mr M, who said, just bring the sale deed. So, at 3.30 I left home and returned to the BBMP office, sale deed photocopy in hand. From 4 till 6 p.m., I sat there, and waited with bated breath. First, Mr M’s room was locked. This was annoying, because I had specifically checked with Mr M if 4 p.m. would be convenient, and he had said parvagilla (which, in this context means ok).

I called B, who said they had gone to Mayo Hall and were on their way back, could I wait 15 minutes or so?

I waited. It was hot, but there were some magnificent trees outside the office and it was a surprisingly peaceful area, tucked away in-between two crowded, noisy roads.

When Mr M & Co arrived, they streamed in on about half a dozen two-wheelers. The locked office was opened, and I followed them in. To his credit, Mr M got to work on my papers right away. He took a scrap of waste paper and scribbled two columns of figures. One, I guessed, was the tax unpaid, the other was the penalty. He totalled them, and it came to a shocking figure.

After that, I filled up the form and wrote out two cheques, one for arrears, the other for the current year. (I had to discard both the form and the cheque I had written on my previous attempt as they were already outdated.)

After that, I waited for almost an hour. There was no electricity, so my receipt could not be generated on the computer. Inside the room, with its corrugated iron sheet for a roof, it was terribly hot and stuffy. Mr M had ordered musambi juice for everyone, and I was surprised, pleased, and mildly embarassed when one glass came my way. It was completely welcome!

I had expected Mr M and others to leave punctually at 5, but they were still around at 5.40, when electricity finally came back. My receipt was promptly printed out, and Mr M verified his calculation of arrears and reduced the amount payable by a few thousand. It took another few minutes to get the receipt for the arrears, and then I was ready to leave. As a parting gift, Mr M gave me the form for the khata application. He had told me earlier that it was available at Mayo Hall, and I wasn’t looking forward to going there, so it was very nice of him to give it to me (at cost price, nothing extra).

Overall, it had been a smooth experience, though requiring a fair degree of patience. Most of the waiting was due to the power cut. Mr M, of course spoke to me almost entirely in Kannada, while I spoke to him entirely in English. We seemed to understand each other, though B was called in as interpreter a couple of times. I don’t know how much was lost in translation, but overall I have to say that a little Kannada goes a long way.

At the end of the day, I had the two receipts in my pocket, and had been shown the way towards obtaining the khata. Next week, I will embark on that promising-looking journey. Let’s see how that turns out.


This Is Why I Hate Bureaucracy

April 14, 2009

We have owned the apartment we live in for about seven years. We have never paid property tax on it. I’m not quite sure why this is so: Amit just thought we didn’t need to and I never thought about it at all. And actually, why should you have to pay tax just because you own property?

Anyway, a couple of months ago, Amit suddenly woke up to the fact that we DO have to pay property tax. Since then, it’s been hanging over us like a Damocles sword, threatening to slay us every Saturday when we try to work up the enthusiasm to tackle the task. Once the 31st March deadline had come and gone, we could breathe easy. The next deadline was 30th April, which gave us another whole month to procrastinate over it. Meanwhile, in the course of some diplomatic negotiations of the kind that frequently occur between man and wife, the responsibility for this onerous task mysteriously got dumped on yours truly.

Since I’m not the kind of person to let grass grow under my feet, and since it has already been growing for six years, unbeknownst to me, I charged off to pay the tax at the first opportunity. I had no idea what this involved – and Amit failed spectacularly to brief me – so I went armed with ignorance, the sale deed, a largely blank form (the scariest looking form I have EVER seen, full of entirely incomprehensible jargon and asking me things I had absolutely NO clue about), my cheque book, and a truckload of determination.

I reached Mayo Hall a little before 10.30 and spent some time getting pushed from pillar to post. One chap (in an office right next to the public toilet, and looking like part of the said public toilet) spoke to me in English, ogled my cellphone, chastised me for not reading Kannada, gave me a cellphone number to call, and told me to go to the Koramangala BDA Complex. I called the cellphone number, and the fellow told me to go to Mayo Hall and then cut the call before I could tell him that I WAS at Mayo Hall. I got pushed around a bit more, coincidentally bumping into my cook, who was trying to obtain her Election ID card. Several people told me to come back after 20th/24th/28th of April because they were busy with “Election duty” – when all they seemed to be busy with was chatting and drinking tea. So why, I demanded belligerently, are you people putting large ads in the newspapers urging us people to pay our property tax NOW, if you actually want us to do so only after the blessed elections?

That, of course, was a waste of breath.

One chap took pity on me, so I put on the poor-little-lost-girl act for his benefit. He took me under his wing, marched me into the Manager’s room (only to find that the Manager was still enjoying the long weekend break), calculated the tax for me and scribbled it in my still-largely-blank form, watched me write out the cheque and scribbled the cheque details in the form, then marched me to the counter where I could make the payment for the arrears. He spoke to the person behind the counter in Kannada, assured me my work would get done, just as soon as electricity came back, left me there and disappeared. I had thought that he was some kind of tout who would ask an exorbitant fee/tip for his help, but apparently he was happy to do it for free. It’s hard to believe.

I hung around for 45 minutes. Electricity, in fact, came back in about five minutes, but there was some problem with the UPS, so just that particular computer that was needed specifically for my work was not coming up. I stood glued to the spot for 45 minutes (I could actually feel the roots growing under my feet), and at last somebody fixed something and the computer came on. The fellow stretched out his hand to take my papers. I handed him my scribbled-on form. He returned it and asked for the receipt. I explained that I had never yet actually paid tax, so I didn’t have a receipt, so could he kindly accept my cheque for arrears and issue me a receipt? Pretty please?

No. I had to have a receipt and if I didn’t have a receipt I should have an order and to get the order I should go back to the other office and get one and without out he couldn’t take my money. No. No way. No.

I don’t know too many people who take kindly to being jerked around, but I know that I’m not one of them. I don’t like being jerked around and I don’t like wasting 45 minutes only to be told that they can’t do something that they could just as easily have told me 45 minutes earlier they couldn’t do. My truckload of determination rapidly turned into a truckload of frustration which I was just itching to dump on the fellow’s head… but I somehow gritted my teeth and walked out and went back to the other office.

By this time it was close to 12 noon, and the Manager had finally showed up. I went and put my case to him. Guess what he said: We’re busy with election duty, come back on 28th April. Several of his staff smirked behind me, saying, clearly enough, “I told you so.”

Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh!!!

The Manager went on to add that if I hadn’t been in any hurry to pay my taxes in the last six years, surely I could wait another couple of weeks. I told him that since I only came in to do my duty once in six years, it might be another six years before I came again. But that’s no skin off his nose so he sent me away with a shrug and returned to his “election duty”.

And home I came, having achieved nothing other than a significant spike in my blood pressure. Sigh.


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