Of Pizzas and Governance

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Hemashri likens the money back Pizza policy of Domino’s to the government departments. Sadly, no one is accountable for the huge delays – in some cases to nearly 100 years. Two state governments, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, have brought about changes in the governance. It’s time for other state governments and the Centre to follow it. Read more in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.

What happens when a Domino’s Pizza is not delivered within thirty minutes? Your money is returned, which means the Pizza is free. That is Domino’s 30-minute Pizza policy. Of course terms and conditions are applicable. Domino’s Pizza is an American Pizza restaurant-chain, founded in 1960. I admire this bold declaration of providing pizza in thirty minutes failing which the money is returned. High level of professionalism is needed to survive with such a tagline. I do not know any other company with a similar marketing strategy.

Domino’s slogan is innovative perhaps a strategy to stand out in the crowd. However, every ordinary restaurant conforms to a certain minimum standard if they are to survive in the tough competition. But what happens in the government sector? Is there any timeline to get your certificates or documents in 24 hours or say on your first visit? Except “Tatkal services” for Railway bookings perhaps no one can even claim to think in this line.

This is my favourite analogy – visit an ATM to withdraw cash. Even before one completes counting the money, the SMS declares the amount withdrawn. When we visit a government office, we do not know whom to approach or whether that person is available or how much time it will be needed or how many visits would it entail. Most offices do not display the Citizen’s Charter. How come two such diametrically opposite worlds coexist?

In the private sector, everything is instantaneous but in the government sector even now the peon delivers letters by hand. Why one sector absorbs technology and the other abhors it. My rebellious mind demands an answer but a government employee (they still prefer the word servant) has no right to question. So the rebel in me fumes in anger and picks up the pen to write real stories after exhausting everything else.

There was a time when I, an inexperienced bureaucrat, passionately pursued every stranger’s matter for quick disposal. It led to so much of hostility that one the day the Deputy Commissioner called her to his chamber to explain, “See these agents are authorised person of people to work on their behalf who for some reason do not want to come to our office. So you have no right to harass or cause inconvenience to them by making them sign in the Receipt Register.” I was utterly confused. To enforce first come first serve principle, we had given a number to every application received along with issue number to every certificate issued and maintained an Issue Register to record issue or receipt. The very next day, I was relieved from the branch where I had introduced the system.

 My college senior Kalyani Gogoi had been coming to the State Secretariat for last eight years for approval of her deputation period and one month earned leave. Her services had not been confirmed for this and she was drawing ten thousand less than her due salary. I followed up her file and came to know that for something so routine, the file had been referred for the opinion of other departments. The system is such that the sufferer is expected to run after the file.

Smti Minakshi Kakoty is a brilliant post graduate of Indian Institute of Technology. She was a Professor of Assam Engineering College from where she resigned to become an IT entrepreneur. In 2012, she completed a digitisation project awarded to her through the usual bidding process. For six years she has been visiting the office of the Deputy Commissioner for payment of her outstanding dues amounting to rupees twelve lakhs. The reason offered to her for the delay by the concerned officer is, “The file could not be located, as the earlier Office Assistant died.” She has been running from pillar to post when I met her one day. I contacted the officer, a batchmate of mine, requesting him to help the distressed lady but no relief till date. This highly educated lady one day stormed into my chamber and said,  “If a qualified, capable woman like me  has to take this then I can imagine what a layman can expect from your government.” I had to endure it because she was fully justified. I suggested her to approach appropriate authority.

In 2015, I met a 78-year-old retired teacher Prabhat Thakuria, who told me he was visiting the office for his land related work since 2012. I tried to speed up the matter. I met him three months back and he told the process was still going on. The 80-year-old man who had lost his wife after a brain tumour operation was still following up his file. He reminded my 80-year-old father. I accompanied Thakuria to the chamber of the officer concerned. His work is not yet disposed of. This list is endless.

Earlier, I was immature so I tried to change things. Now, I am changing my reaction by recording their cases as case studies. Next month, in August, my pending prayer will complete twenty years of initiation, which is still under process. I plan to celebrate it in a befitting manner.

However, the king of all kings – the grandest of all pending cases is a file related to a willed property. This property, based in Kolkata, belonged to a rich Assamese timber merchant. This Will was probated in 1921 in Kolkata High Court whereby he donated a huge real estate property for the welfare of poor, primary students of Assam. After nearly 90 years of the Will, I had the privilege to receive a few papers from Kolkata informing that illegal occupants were trying to mutate a part of the property. The matter was placed at the appropriate forum a decade ago. Now, this Will is soon going to be a hundred years old but we are yet to acquire the property.

Time is a premium. If the Pizza is not delivered within thirty minutes of placing an order, Domino’s returns the money. The poor delivery boy pays it from his salary. Why does a similar policy not apply to the erring officer, who earns a higher salary? Strangely, no one is accountable in the government departments. This must change.

In India, Madhya Pradesh was the first state to come up with legislation to ensure timely delivery of public services. It was followed by Bihar, a state considered to be a history-sheeter in matters related to development.  Both these states were part of the BIMARU (an acronym for sick) states. Today, these states have reportedly transformed governance making full use of technology. Ultimately in matters of public service, public satisfaction is crucial. Who will cast his or her vote to decide who will govern the state?

Domino’s thirty minute Pizza policy must be a rude reminder to other Pizza companies to decide their benchmark to continue selling Pizza. Along with a strong goodwill and commitment to serve, technology may (read must) be allowed to penetrate to ensure maximum citizen’s satisfaction by ensuring quick delivery. Citizen’s Rating shall go up so will credibility and trust. Let there be healthy competition in crucial areas.

Why only Domino’s let every pizza be delivered warm and fresh!

©Hemashri Hazarika

Photos from the Internet

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Hemashri Hazarika is an Officer of the Assam Civil Service since 1997. Her research on Assam Civil Service brought reforms in 2015. A first-class Postgraduate in Economics from Gauhati University, she was awarded JRF/NET by UGC in 1997. Her experience as a bureaucrat has sensitised her to human sufferings. A solutionist by passion, she takes an active interest in issues related to Governance, Development, Women, Children, etc. Reading, Writing, Speaking and Painting are her hobbies.