A Lutyens-trained babu always succeeds in making the lives of people miserable by acts of omission and commission.

 

Since the day human beings began philosophizing, they have been discussing the purpose of government. From Plato and Aristotle to John Rawls and Robert Nozick, they have discussed such weighty matters. Anyone who lives in India, however, knows the answer quite clearly: government exists to harass citizens, especially if they are law-abiding.

A few days ago, I got an SMS that my FASTag facility is not KYC-compliant, KYC standing for know-your-customer. I have to go to their website to get it done on a website, https://fastag.ihmcl.com. A customer care number was also given. I called them up; a guy informed me that I have to go to their website, log in, and upload my PAN, an address proof (the Aadhaar card not valid for that purpose), and a photograph.

Why, I asked. I was told that the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) is following the mandate of the Reserve Bank of India. But why does the Central bank have to do with a facility that the NHAI provides to vehicle owners? Obviously, the guy didn’t know. We have to follow the orders, he said, otherwise you would not be able to use the facility.

I took pictures and uploaded them; the exercise took some time and effort. To what avail, I wondered.

I Googled to find out what the whole thing was all about. The Times of India reported on 9 December 2019, “The road transport and highways ministry has approached the Reserve Bank of India to exempt those acquiring FASTags from the “know your customer” (KYC) norm. The ministry’s move is aimed at making immediate issuance of smart tags possible even near toll gates.”

A few days later, Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari said that the RBI had given its in-principle nod for exempting people buying FASTag from the KYC norm. “I met RBI Governor recently at my residence. He has given an in-principle nod. Clearance will come soon.”

But no exemption followed; somehow the KYC norm became mandatory. The reasons are not difficult to find. RBI Governors are usually bureaucrats personifying statism and incorrigibly illiberal. Typically, “ban” and “compulsory” are their favourite words. The RBI had banned cryptocurrencies in 2018, which was invalidated by the Supreme Court. But, defying the apex court, the Central bank still wants them to be outlawed. This terrifies investors, but then nothing pleases a bureaucrat than criminalizing victimless activities and thus troubling people. Sadism is systemic in India.

A Lutyens-trained babu always succeeds in making the lives of people miserable by acts of omission and commission. Check the way Lutyens babus implemented the policy of demonetization. Such clumsy implementation proved to be the bane of the economy. Its execution was ham-fisted.

A news magazine reported on 16 October, 2019 that Reserve Bank of India  came under duress at the apex banks’ board meet as two external directors questioned the apex bank as to how a series of scams that came to light since 2018 remained unnoticed. The two directors cited the Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud, the IL&FS scam and the very recent Punjab & Maharashtra Co-operative (PMC) Bank case, reported the magazine. Did such public strictures affect the careers of senior ranks in the RBI? In fact, many were promoted subsequently. Such reward for blockages and poor implementation epitomizes our system. Those in the mechanism do nothing when it should be doing things like checking scams. It should not defy the Supreme Court and torment FASTag users, although they are far from the only sufferers of babudom.

Unfortunately, there are many of Lutyens Babu mindset still in the system despite efforts by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to rid the country of such a malady. Consider something as impressive-sounding as high-security registration plates (HSRPs). Vehicle owners are supposed to obtain HSRPs from specified centres by first booking them online and then visiting the centres. I had to travel to another part of the city to get one.

What is the purpose? Would they stop or check theft? Nobody knows or cares. There are orders which the hapless people have to follow, otherwise they would be penalized.

This is the pattern. Someone sitting somewhere decides that citizens must abide by some rule whose purpose is unknown; and we have to follow the rule. Ours is not to reason why, ours is to unthinkably obey. But worse may yet follow. There are a thousand goods and services that we pay for. Would we have to follow the KYC norm for each of them? Check with the RBI to find out

The author is a freelance journalist