There are significant variations in the administration in India. At the top level, the state
administration is divided into a number of departments (typically thirty-five). The
Secretary to the government is the administrative head of the department. He is a very
senior officer. The Secretary usually reports to the Minister of the department in the State
Government (or to the Advisor to the Governor during President's Rule). Important policy
decisions are taken by the Council of Ministers or the Cabinet.
Under a department, there may be one or more state-level set-ups. And there may be
sub-offices (and sub-sub-offices et cetera) depending on various factors. An office may be
functionally under one or more departments depending on work allocation among the
departments. There are autonomous bodies owned, controlled, aided and/or sponsored by the
government, which are legal entities different from the government, albeit akin to the
government in many respects.
In our federal structure, there are elected governments as also legislatures at the
Central and State levels. There may be elected or nominated autonomous bodies, such as in
tribal areas, which function like the government. Moreover, there are elected or nominated
representatives in various tiers of local bodies.
'Collector' is the officer under the State Government in charge of the general
administration of a district. He is variously known as Deputy Commissioner (DC), District
Magistrate (DM) and Collector et cetera. The Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) is the officer
in-charge of the general administration and land revenue of a sub-division in a district. He
is variously known as Sub-Divisional Officer (SDO) and Sub-Collector et cetera. The SDM
reports to the collector of the district.
Generally, the territory of a district is divided into a number of non-overlapping
sub-divisions, typically four. The territory of a district is also divided into a number of
non-overlapping rural blocks (typically ten) and urban areas (typically four), rural blocks
and urban areas being disjointed. The Block Development Officer (BDO) is in charge of a
rural block. The rural block is divided into a number of village panchayats (typically
The district level set-up of the State Police is headed by the Superintendent of
Police (SP). Similarly, the district level set-up of the Forest Department is headed by the
Divisional Forest Officer (DFO). It is not essential that the revenue, police and forest
districts be coterminous.
As a rule of thumb, if any post is denoted by X, then the following posts are in
declining order of seniority: Chief X, Principal X, X, Additional X, Joint X, Deputy X,
Under X, and Assistant X. Thus, Additional Superintendent of Police is senior to Deputy
Superintendent of Police, X being Superintendent of Police.
Moreover, the word 'special' often appears to mean somewhat the opposite of 'better
than ordinary', as in Officer-on-Special Duty (who may have no duty assigned at all!), and
Special Secretary (who may have to take orders from the ordinary Secretary of the
On the other hand, as if by ludicrous design, the word 'general' often means 'very
senior to, or, extraordinary'. For example, Major General, General Manager, Director
General, Accountant General, and Post Master General are much more senior to a Major,
Manager, Director, Accountant, and Post Master respectively.
In Amusing Anecdotes on Indian Red Tape, I have attempted to compile anecdotes and
witticisms pertaining to the bureaucracy in India. Whereas some of the anecdotes and
witticisms have been collected from informal talks during get-togethers of senior
bureaucrats, the others have been collected from lighter moments during formal meetings.
Some of these might have originated from real-life situations, and others might be based
entirely on loose talk.
The anecdotes and witticisms are from different sections of bureaucracy and
different parts of the country, though there may be slight preponderance of the IAS and the
IPS, and of the eastern and north-eastern regions. Certain theoretical concepts on
bureaucracy have also been indicated at appropriate places.
Anecdotes and witticisms on bureaucracy have the propensity to appear so scandalous
and sensational as to be classified 'hardcore stuff'. However, this compilation is devoid of
ribaldry. It is meant only to induce some cheer at the expense of red tape, which is usually
supposed to give only jeers. While the anecdotes appear amusing, nonetheless, these provide
profound insight into the functional behaviour of red tape.
These anecdotes are to be taken in lighter vein, as a literary exercise, and not as
a serious commentary on the state of affairs amidst the bureaucracy in India. The anecdotes
are not normative or prescriptive. I tend to the believe in the spirit of Max Weber's theory
on bureaucracy that the bureaucracy is capable of attaining the highest degree of
efficiency. And that it is capable of becoming the most rational means of exercising
authority over human beings. It is our duty to increase the efficiency of the
I hope that the insights into red tape provided by this collection will have a
salubrious effect. Humour always improves the depth of our comprehension. It also provides
relief to bureaucrats from daily drudgeries and pressures of the grind, and vivifies the
otherwise dull milieu.
All characters in the anecdotes are fictitious and do not refer to any real person,
dead or alive. I have taken the liberty of narrating some anecdotes in the first person.
However, I must aver that there is nothing autobiographical in this compilation. None of the
stories or comments is from personal experience, though my experience as an insider in
bureaucracy has undoubtedly facilitated better appreciation.
As already pointed out, this collection is based primarily on gossip and hearsay
amidst gatherings of senior bureaucrats. Some anecdotes were heard in more than one
situation and with some variations. It is very difficult to pinpoint the provenance of such
gossip and hearsay. Therefore, it is difficult to acknowledge those who have helped me,
directly or indirectly, with the stories and comments.
I am thankful to my father Gauri Shanker Sahu, my wife Sunita, my brother Mukesh and
my brother-in-law Sanjay Kumar for their valuable contributions. I am also thankful to the
Editor, SK Roy, for his cooperation. Last but not the least, I am also grateful to my
daughters, Sangh Mitra ('Twinkle') and Shruti ('Sneh') for their unflinching cooperation. I
have worked on this book during my leave and on holidays, which I should have dutifully
devoted to them.
The views expressed in this book do not reflect the views of the Government.
Back of the Book
The book illustrates how BABUDOM runs the country: Under heaps of files
by sitting on
by running around in circles Following the rules in letter
forgetting the spirit In goody-goody officialese to conceal barbs In service of the
implying 'Me First' By dancing
to the tune of politicians With
by passing the buck Without breaking rules
by bending them With
A humorous yet objective account by a senior bureaucrat, the book contains 240
engrossing anecdotes on various aspects of India's infamous bureaucracy. Written in a lucid,
captivating style with an eye on authenticity, Amusing Anecdotes on Indian Red Tape
will amuse, amaze and entertain you from cover to cover.
Barun Kumar Sahu, 33, is an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer,
Manipur-Tripura cadre, 1992 batch. He also holds a Bachelor of Technology (Honours) degree
in Computer Science and Engineering from IIT, Kharagpur.
He has held several senior positions under the Government of Tripura and has rich
experience of public policy formulation and administration.
The author also contributes articles on current affairs ad news analysis as a
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