Unfit government employees survive and thrive
The post office in the picture above is the SP college post office on Tilak Road, in Pune. It looks clean and neat and quiet doesn’t it? Well, that was because it was almost five ‘o” clock and all the counters were closed. When the counters are open there is mayhem. And naturally so. The method of working of the office ensures that the counters are always crowded. They work so as to keep the customers waiting as long as possible and try very hard to make them come back the second time.
I wonder what the motive is, but can’t help thinking that it is harass to customers. The employees must be getting some kind of pleasure by making people wait and even more pleasure when they force customers to return again and again and again. What a sense of power it must be giving them…these people who shuffle papers all day long! I guess it is this power that makes their job worth it.
All of us have been at the receiving end of government efficiency at some time or the other. We all learn to live with it and try to work around it. I was lucky that I had a choice, that I didn’t have to do business with the government in this case…and at the end of it all I could only marvel at the amount of damage employees cause to their own office without being penalised or reprimanded. Their jobs are ofcourse safe, very safe. They also continue to get raises and promotions.
Here’s my little experience:
I was in Pune on Monday to renew a sizeable amount that I had kept in a monthly income scheme (called MIS) five years ago. I wanted to combine the interest and the principal amount and reinvest it in the same scheme. The investment counter was crowded with agents, the people who do these kinds of jobs on behalf of clients. I wanted to do this myself as at that point of time I had no agent. There were very few individual customers like me. I was fifth in line and waited patiently for my turn. 30 minutes later it was my turn, and it had been an interesting 30 minutes as the lady behind the counter argued or was rude to everyone in the line before me. In one case she gave a customer Rs 1000/- instead of Rs 6000/- and he had to return to get the correct amount. Some regular customers whispered to me that the woman loved to keep people waiting and liked it even more if they were sent away and told to come back the next day or even better…after 8 days!
When it was my turn I experienced this first hand. (The conversation took place in Marathi).
Me: My deposit has matured and I want to renew it, alongwith the interest.
Lady at the counter: (briefly glanced at me and went back to shuffling papers) What?
I repeated what I said. Without looking at me she shoved a slip of paper towards me and asked me to fill it up.
I examined that slip. I had to fill in the amount in two places. I was still at the counter although now the customer behind me was engaged in a conversation with the lady. After waiting a few minutes I got a word in.
Me: What is the amount I need to fill in? I don’t know the interest accrued.
The woman looked at me briefly again, as if amused, and then went back to discussing something with the customer. She completely ignored me, although I repeated my request several times.
Finally I turned to another lady behind another counter, who was sitting right next to Lady no 1, and repeated my question.
Lady no 2: Write the principal amount there.
Me: I write the principal amount even though I want to reinvest the whole amount? I don’t write the interest?
Lady no 2: No. You write just the principal amount.
She spoke very loudly, which she had to as the place was noisy. Lady no 1 heard and I thought if she heard and didn’t contradict lady no 2, then it must be correct.
So I filled the slip and wrote the amount in words and figures. Then I went back to the counter which was by now even more crowded. Even though I told the customers in the front that I had come in there earlier and I just had to give my slip (so I thought) none of them would budge and let me talk to the lady. You don’t have a token they said. I didn’t get a token I said. They didn’t care. So I had to wait.
I waited for another 30 minutes or so. When I reached the counter I gave the filled in slip to Lady no 1. She glanced at it and then said it’s the wrong amount. I needed to write the amount + the bonus.
Me: I don’t know what the bonus is. And that lady over there said it was okay to write the principal amount.
Lady no 1 sneered: I am in charge of investment, not she.
I said nothing and watched as she looked up some ledger and then scratched out the amount I had written on the slip. She wrote another amount and asked me to sign, which I did. The new figure she had written was the principal amount plus the bonus. Clearly the interest was not included in this amount and I had started to feel a little confused as I wanted to reinvest the principal amount + the interest.
Lady no 1: Come back at 5 o clock and collect the cheque.
Me: Is a cheque necessary? Can’t you transfer the amount without giving the cheque? I also want to invest all the the interest that has accrued.
Lady no 1 looked blank: You want to reinvest?
Me: Yes, that is what I told you at the start. I want to re-invest all the money.
Lady no 1: So you don’t want to withdraw the amount?
Me: No, no. I don’t want to withdraw the amount. I want to re-invest. I told you that.
Lady no 1 (looked flustered): For that you need references
Me: Whose references?
Lady no 1 (she had regained her composure and was smiling as if I had said something stupid): People who know you and know me ofcourse!
Me: I need references for just renewing the deposit?
Lady no 1: You also need your pan card.
Me: I have a pan card. But can you do the renewing today itself? I don’t live in Pune.
Lady no 1 (irritated now) : You people come and want everything to be done instantly! This is not possible. These things take time.
Me (very politely): All I did was ask if it was possible today. If it is not possible, then tell me the complete procedure.What is the procedure?
She shoved a form towards me, a completely different form from what she had given me earlier. She told me that I had to fill that in and give it to her if I wanted to renew my account.
Me: And then what do I do?
I was sick of this piecemeal approach. At the same time I was growing increasingly sceptical about the investment. If this woman had given me this form earlier, it would have saved me about 45 minutes. I was trying not to think of how much time I would need to fill up this new form and then wait in line again. I glanced at the clock behind the lady. It was edging towards 1 p.m. and their lunch time was at 1:30 p.m. This could go on till after lunch…but was this counter even open after lunch? And I had to get back to Mumbai that same evening.
As I was wondering what to do she seemed to lose it. She snapped.
Lady no 1: I am very busy as you can see and I have no time to answer any of your questions. There are some agents here, ask them!
For the first time a customer standing behind me spoke up. He had been listening to the exchange. He didn’t address the lady but commented to me.
Customer: But telling you about the scheme is her job!
By that time I had already made up my mind. I thought the lady was incompetent and even if I invested in a post office scheme it would certainly not be in this post office.
Me (very quietly): I don’t want to reinvest. You told me to collect my cheque at 5 and I will do that.
Lady no 1: Yes I think that’s the best thing for you. Collect your cheque at 5!
End of conversation!
As I left the post office I could not help wondering whether this woman who was handling investments for the post office was in cahoots with the agents and was therefore being unhelpful and difficult. She had behaved badly with some other customers as well and was behaving better with the agents, who all apparently knew her.
Or maybe this is the only way she gets sleep at night. Thinking of all the customers she had harassed that day. I doubt whether she loses any sleep over the fact that she is losing the post office business.
Later in the evening I collected my cheque and am now planning to invest it somewhere else. Maybe in a fixed deposit. The post office in any case was offering only 8% on an investment period of 6 years…I think I can find a better alternative. What a shame though. I am actually a great admirer of the Indian Posts, about which I have written here. But as you can see from the photograph below, even the name of their post office is not clearly visible. If they do not care about their own office, where is the chance of them caring about their customers?