A driving licence in 50 minutes and all legal

Indian Express, 11 October 2005

As with most things, when expriry dates are 10 years away, one tends to forget to look at the date. Even though I carry my driving licence in my wallet, and open the wallet many times a day, by the time I glanced at the date to check if my licence was still valid, the licence had expired 10 months ago. When I mentioned this to friends and colleagues, I heard stories about how difficult it would be to get it renewed. I most certainly would have to pay bribes. Going through touts might help. I contacted an old classmate who is now an officer with the Delhi Police. My friend found out that the licence cannot be renewed and I would need to get a fresh license made.

The Delhi transport department website has good information on the documents needed - proof of age, residence, number of photograhs etc. It said that you need forms No. 1 and 9, though, unfortunately, it did not put these forms up on the website for downloading and you had to go to the Regional Transport Office to collect them. Maybe it helps to increase work load and justify jobs, I thought cynically. Having obtained the forms, I applied for a day's leave and went loaded with the required documents and a purse full of loose cash to Sheikh Sarai, the Regional Transport Office which had issued my licence in 1994, ready to do whatever it took to get my licence.

Greeted by stinking loos at the entrance of the RTO was depressing. But what happened inside was, to me, nothing short of a miracle. The windows at the RTO booths were about waist high, and 6 inches by 6 inches big with the clerk sitting 3 feet away. This meant bending double and yelling to make myself heard, eliminating any chances of a hushed conversation. The clerk looked at the form I had filled, quietly asked for Rs 320, gave me a computerised receipt and sent me to another counter. The next clerk asked for Rs 90, gave me another receipt and sent me to a door called gate No. 8. Exactly 50 minutes after I had entered the RTO office, I walked out with my licence. I wondered why nobody had told me that such things happen, why all I had heard was bad stories about my country. Perhaps because no one wrote good ones. And, that is why I thought I must write this story.

Ila Patnaik

Ila Patnaik