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'Ease of Living Life'

India may have ranked satisfactorily in Ease of Doing Business, yet, few would disagree that the Ease of Living Life has been absent.

Ease of Living Life

The national government is busy working on improving India's Ease of Doing Business rank. The latest result announced by the World Bank saw India jumping 30 places in one year, quite an achievement indeed. But, the Indian people are not deliriously happy with this reasonably good record, especially with those in the opposition mocking at the performance of the Indian economy and many 'independent' analysts also displaying the lack of any enthusiasm to this feat. Perhaps, the detractors have a point. Such rankings, be these by august institutions like the World Bank or American magazines like Forbes or Fortune, mean little to the ordinary people busy in their daily struggle for survival. For them, what matters is the 'Ease of Living Life'.

Curiously, there has never been any effort by any government, Centre or State, to provide hassle free-living conditions to the citizens, rich or poor. Instead, the system that has taken root, attempts to place as many roadblocks as possible in the everyday life of an ordinary person. Just take the Aadhaar fiasco as a case in point. One must link their Aadhaar details with bank accounts. Even mutual funds are busy sending messages on linking accounts with the Aadhaar. Then mobile phones, even if one has been using it for ten years or more, it needs to be linked with the Aadhaar. For all these, one must visit the bank or the phone operator, if one does not have their phone numbers recorded with the Aadhaar card. This brings one to the other problem commonly faced by cardholders.
Aadhaar data has been keyed in by data entry operators. There are umpteen numbers of instances where such data was carelessly left blank or wrongly entered, by the agency. In order to link the Aadhaar with bank accounts or mobiles, one needs a properly recorded telephone number. For those who find such information missing, the next step is to visit the UIDAI office, fill in the form, spend time (if one is lucky) or even successive days and process the request for filing mobile numbers accepted. For a working person, this means taking a few days off and running after identity restoration. One exists only if the information is keyed in correctly in the Aadhaar database, which is again beyond anybody's direct supervisory control.
In order to have a foolproof record of its citizens, India has innovated this revolutionary biometric system. One is a properly documented Indian citizen only if one possesses the Aadhaar card with all its relevant and irrelevant details. In a porous system that governs India, it is unlikely to assume that somebody who crossed the border the other day would be automatically identified and denied the all-important Aadhaar card. In fact, in certain states, to enrol for Aadhaar by itself is an onerous process. One needs to go to the recording centre, obtain a date when one can appear to record their thumb impressions and then collect the same when they care to mail the card.
What is ignored by all, media included, is the immense potential to cause harm that is garnered by the lower bureaucracy and subsequently their agents. Aadhaar, GST, Driving Licence, Passport or any other permission that one needs, follow the same rule, the difference in the harassment meted out to people for all documents is of one degree only. What is interesting is that the callous treatment varies directly with the absence of purchasing power – the poorer one is, the more callous is the treatment. Not long ago, the media flashed photographs of Dana Majhi carrying his wife, Amang's dead body, from a district hospital at Bhawanipatna in Odisha. He had no money to ferry his wife's lifeless body and the hospital did not provide him with the vehicle. Of course, such reports make an appearance of only 15 minutes on television, while the Ease of Doing Business rankings can occupy attention for much longer with national and international personalities both passing judgments, for or against. Dana Majhi's plight is of least significance since there is no Ease of Living Life index monitored by a multilateral agency.
On the other hand, in its zeal to improve the delivery of benefits and nab those who escape from being caught under the tax net, the Government keeps tightening the systems and procedures. What the top brass do not care to pause and think is that those people in the surveillance and executing agencies – like say Income Tax, Sales Tax, Police etc. – have been long-time associates of tax dodgers and crooks. Only with their active support could they thrive and prosper. When such people get additional power, what are they expected to do? They target all, leaving the friendly dodgers some escape routes. Has there been any reduction in the Indian escape system through bribery? Even when the demonetisation drive was in force, just to obtain a simple tax paid certificate of some past dues one had to pay speed money to the municipal clerk. This is not an isolated instance. Are the babus afraid of taking bribes?
If one keeps an eye on the brief news items occasionally splashed on television, one will find that perhaps, the cost of corruption has escalated. Even if we try to work out a cursory "Ease of Living Life'' index we cannot avoid realising that the index remained static, at best, and worsened according to those who have been at the receiving end. And many of us belong to this category. All messages from banks come with a routine alarm on linking the Aadhaar with the account – even if the same has already been done. All mobile companies keep messaging with the threat to disconnect your number without your thumbprint, for which you need to visit their offices, even if the has already been done. Nobody cared to explore if somebody has already linked his pan with Aadhar and the pan is recorded in the bank, why can't the two be linked sparing the ordinary citizen the hassle? Why must mobile numbers which have been running with the same address and same owner for years not be allowed to run undisturbed? If tomorrow, some other bright mind comes out with some other kind of Aadhaar card, will we be asked to re-verify ourselves with the new identity card?
Good governance is not merely about plugging leakages but also about providing conditions for the Ease of Living Life. Strangely, decision makers, be they elected representatives (ruling or in the opposition) or those sitting on the high chair to judge everything from archaeological issues, mythologies, and social behaviour, are happy remaining deaf and blind to the people whom they are expected to cater. Can't they see how restless people are?
(The views expressed are personal.)

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