At Chennai RTO West, learn about bottlenecking

I did not really find it difficult. I am a member of the Automobile Association of Southern India, which has a government-approved system of getting your RTO services done without having to seek out brokers and touts.

Today, I spent some time at the Chennai RTO (West) serving large localities in the South West of the city for a licence renewal. What you learn during the visit is that although there has been an exponential growth in the number of vehicles in Chennai, led by two-wheelers, the RTO offices remain stunted. That is a deliberate thing, because a bottleneck is necessary to produce some rent opportunities. (Get an idea of Chennai vehicle numbers and problems in this report.)

It is ridiculous, for instance, that for a population base of several hundred thousands, there is a single webcam to take photos for issue of licences. The result is a long line of people waiting for their turn. But the bigger challenge is to find out where the line starts, and which the relevant line is.

There are two officers in the hall, sitting at ancient wooden tables. They are obviously the most sought-after people, and many applicants stand with their hands deferentially folded to avoid offending the men.  Driving school agents, who keep the system well-oiled, have the ear of the two officers. Yet, there is an occasional show of irritation and one officer throws papers dramatically on the table to convey his reproach.

In a country constantly boasting about its rising status, and motorising at a feverish pace, how is it that the RTO offices are in such a shabby state, whether it is the DMK or the AIADMK in power (a new portrait of the Chief Minister has apppeared in the hall, predictably).

Mysteriously, there is a television set on the wall apparently intended to make some service announcements, but it is lifeless.

One would expect that the number of RTO offices is quadrupled or even more, given the rising demand for services. Why only one webcam? Why no indication of who does what, at which table, and a token system as in the banks? What needs to be done is to fully digitise the system, and enable online applications. This will produce a receipt and a date and time for interview/ photography automatically. Such as system was introduced in 1999 in the same state of Tamil Nadu, in Tiruvarur district by the Collector, C Umashankar (bounced around all the time for his unbending attitude and penchant for exposing corruption). In fact, his e-governance moves were so impressive that he was invited to attend an e-gov summit abroad. The previous AIADMK government refused permission for him to go!

The low priority given to RTO services and the systemic corruption clearly shows that neither the Centre nor the States are interested in road safety. It is just a rent-collecting opportunity. Any surprise that 1.33 lakh Indians died in road accidents in one year according to the latest statistics, as this report says? What kind of testing can you do when your offices are so hopelessly packed? How much time can an understaffed department devote per driving licence test? Where are the testing grounds (announced years ago by Minister Ponmudi) for licence applicants?

Here are two images from the RTO (West) from today, showing how transport department services are deliberately bottlenecked. Time for change. Where are the self-declared fighters of corruption? Should they not be here everyday, looking at what needs to change?

What is that TV for? Applicants reach the had of the line, to be photographed for a driver's licence, RTO West, Chennai

What is that TV for? Applicants reach the head of the line, to be photographed for a driver's licence at RTO West, Chennai

One office for so many? Applicants wait for their turn at RTO West, Chennai

One office for so many? Applicants wait for their turn for service at RTO West, Chennai

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