Monday, April 20, 2015

Government officials & Service mindedness

By now you may have read my earlier posts and figured that my dad had a heart attack and underwent a bypass surgery. He did, and the events and interactions during the last fortnight were quite interesting and made me realize many things about the people and organizations and most of all about myself.

My dad is a retired professor of chemistry, receiving a government pension. Since I have been away from India and Tamil Nadu for better part of last decade, I did not realize that government of Tamil Nadu has introduced a medical insurance scheme along with its pension scheme and people who enroll get a decent medical cover. Since his condition was eligible to be covered under the medical insurance scheme, the hospital guys gave me a form and asked me to get it stamped and signed by the Treasury office.

I have never been to the Treasury office and frankly speaking had no clue as to what the process was. Whom should I meet, what documents do I need to produce, how many steps before I can get the required approvals and so on. One of our family friends had some friends in the Treasury and was able to find out the process and also get the required forms and requested me to meet the Treasury officer in person and get the signature.

On the appointed day, I turned up at around 10:30 AM at the Treasury office, Thanjavur. It happened to be the first day of the current financial year, and at this time of the year the pensioners are required to appear in person so that, proof of life can be provided and continue collecting the monthly pension. The scene could not have been any more pathetic.

The Treasury building is already an old and almost ancient building, I am surprised that it is not yet classified as a national monument of historical significance. On a hot, summer day when the mercury is boiling and threatening to break the thermometer and burst out, in a room with is very badly ventilated, measuring not more than 250 sq ft, about 20 odd government officials and clerks are trying to help about 50 odd 65+ pensioners who have formed a classic Indian queue, i.e stand where ever you could place your feet. The room was hotter than the outside by at least 4 degrees. 

There were couple of ceiling fans making more noise than a steam engine and about three desk fans.

I truly understood the meaning of appalling working conditions. One of the clerks had put a couple of card boards on their chair because the seat of the chair was broken.

Finally when I reached the counter where I was supposed to submit the forms, the lady behind the desk explained the process, and gave me directions to couple of desks in different buildings where I need to get the required signatures. She was in a hurry and did not have the time to explain things more than once. 

For once, I did not feel angry at what appeared to be less tolerance on the Govt official's side and what would normally be considered as bad customer service. That they turn up to work every day in those conditions, is itself a service.

I am sure the government departments have enough money and budgets to set up a decent, air conditioned offices. But then I guess its reserved for "Senior" officers and "higher ranking" officials. The "Raj" mentality has not gone even after 60 odd years of Independence. While all are equal under the law and in general, its bloody obvious that some are more equal than others.

PS: The officials were very helpful sorted out the documents, and in about a day's time we got the relevant insurance approvals and availed cashless treatment facility. We did cover the shortfall.

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