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Amusing Anecdotes on Indian Red Tape (A compilation of hilarious moments in the inscrutable and dreaded bureaucracy)

Amusing Anecdotes on Indian Red Tape (A compilation of hilarious moments in the inscrutable and dreaded bureaucracy)
Item Code: IDK468
Author: Barun Kumar Sahu
Publisher: Pustak Mahal
Edition: 2002
ISBN: 8122308031
Pages: 176 (Illustrated Throughout In B/W)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 8.4" X 5.5"

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 thirty).

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 department!)

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 administration.

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 them
Overworking…by running around in circles
Following the rules in letter – forgetting the spirit
In goody-goody officialese – to conceal barbs In service of the nation… implying 'Me First'
By dancing… to the tune of politicians
With infallibility… by passing the buck
Without breaking rules… by bending them
With utmost impartiality… on paper!

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 hobby.


1Old Was Not Gold15
2Stratagems for Maintaining Status16
3Where is That Again?16
4Reception Counter Tricks of the Trade16
5Documentary Evidence17
6Rightful is Not Always Lawful17
7Loyalty to Impersonal Authority18
8Audacious Response…and Reward19
9Destitute 'Foreign Minister'20
10Dressing it in English20
11Unprogrammed Decision21
12Tongue-in-Cheek Definitions21
13Passing Slip of the Tongue22
14 'Pleading' Charges22
15Enjoy the Inevitable23
16Communication Gap24
17True Multimedia24
18The Cost of Poverty25
19Verifying One's Own Antecedents25
20Private Works26
21The Hidden Agenda26
22Talking Turkey in Bureaucratese27
24Changing Colours29
25Retiring Reality30
26Nuisance Value of a Bureaucrat30
27Strict Strictures31
28Morality Grounded32
29Overtime Sans Allowance33
30Hair-splitting Differentiation33
31Taboo Fare33
32Hoist With His Own Petard34
33Decent Burial34
34Ping-pong Clearance35
35Unsure Sureties35
36Ignorance is Bliss36
37Paper Horse Runs Full Circle37
38Corny Version38
39Sham Punishment38
40Kow-towing to the Chief Minister39
41Honesty Needs No Reward39
42Undone, Done39
43Sisyphean Task40
44Role Reversal41
45Smart Moron41
46Ground Realities42
47Unity in Diversity43
48Clamour for Suspension43
50Strike Unmasks Worthless Workers45
51Era of Specialisation45
52Fudged Truth46
53Ironies (I)46
54Committee It!47
55Smart Bureaucrats Don't Work48
56Flogging a Dead Horse48
57The Better Venue49
58The Also-ran50
59Who is the Government Anyway?50
60Obfuscated Goal51
61Status Quo Ante52
62Entitled Hospitality53
63Mediocre Expertise53
64Fighting it on Paper54
65Paper Tigers Play Safe55
66Root Cause of Failures56
67Qualified Explanation56
68Every dog Has Its Day56
69Code Language57
70First-hand Experience58
71Foolish Wisdom!59
72The Last Laugh59
73Entrenched Rut59
74Crazy Justification60
75Wide off the Mark61
76Who's the Boss?62
77Entitlement by Proxy63
78Small Fries, Bold Decisions63
79Between Scylla and Charybdis64
80No Payola, This64
81Minister Proposes, Babu Disposes65
82Honesty in Small Things66
83Rote Rubber-stamping66
84Round Peg in Square Hole67
85Heads I Win, tails You Lose68
86Never Say Never Again68
87Bearing the Brunt of Babu's Ignorance 68
88Vox Populi, Vox Dei69
89Kaale Akshar, Bhains Baraabar70
90Small Surprises of the Boondocks70
91Aids For AIDS71
92Hand-to-Mouth Existence72
93Statistical 'Error'72
94Who Calls the Shots?73
95By Hook or by Crook73
96No Hindi Please74
97Reshuffled Response74
98Only to Impress Officials75
99Putting it Mildly76
100Administrative Reforms77
101Alien Etiquette78
102Class Matters78
103The Boss is Always Right79
104Different Routes to the Same Spot80
105Wolf in Sheep's Clothing80
106Trappings of Power81
107Convoluted Logic82
108Bail Bonds83
109Doing as Directed83
110Economy Overdrive84
111Odd Timings84
112Garbage In, Garbage Out85
113Conduct Rules86
114No Escape From Official Tag 87
115Taxing Patience87
116Fast Forward87
117Manna From Heaven88
118Problem of Plenty88
119French Leave Saves the Day89
120The Tail Wags the Dog89
121Slow and Tardy Wins the Race90
122All in a Day's Work91
123No-win Situation92
124Symbiotic Fraud93
125Racing Downhill93
126Spoken Words Have No Value94
127Sops for Cerberus94
128Bureaucratic Snippets95
129Blind Readers96
130Diplomatic Speak97
131Seen, Not Read97
132Name Game98
133On the Beaten Track99
134Officers Change, Rules Don't99
135State Ironies (II)100
136Misuse, Then Pay Dearly100
137Red Taping Red Tape 101
138Corrupt Bureaucrats Preferred! 103
139Killing Three Birds with One Stone 103
140Perpetual Funding 104
141Free Electricity to Reduce Losses 104
142Indefinite Wait 105
143Impoverished by a Loan 105
144False Colours 106
145His Master's Voice 107
146Permanent Vs Impermanent 108
147Informal Channel of Communication 109
148He Who Matters, Matters 110
149Wearing Multiple Hats 110
150Playing for Time 111
151Beating About the Fire 111
152Deliberate Leak 112
153White Elephant 113
154Lopsided Security 113
155Kicked Upstairs 114
156Tricky Adult Education 115
157 'Urgent' is Not That Urgent 115
158Open Secret 116
159Inheriting Bankruptcy 117
160Bureaucrat's National Integration 118
161Penny-wise, Pound Foolish 118
162Spoke in the Wheel 119
163Seeds of Delay 120
164Tea Times 121
165Beating the Deadline 121
166Themselves the Weakest Links 122
167Whose Work is it Anyway? 123
168Prosecuting the Whistleblower 124
169Finding the Whipping-boy 124
170Unusual Oral Order 125
171Crisis Driven 126
172Flouting the Spirit 127
173The Buck Stops at the Lowest Level 128
174The Best Rates..of Non-payment! 128
175Clerk Works, Advocate Earns 129
176Multiple Agencies, Same Source 129
177Communications Galore 130
178Profit and Loss Don't Count 131
179To Whomever it May (Or May Not) Concern 132
180Follow the Letter, Forget the Spirit 132
181State Ironies (III) 133
182Official-cum-Social Etiquette 134
183Deciding the Undecided 134
184Double Paperwork to Reduce Paperwork 135
185Sham Efficiency 135
186How Insanity Was Cured 136
187 Functional Anarchy137
188Unsound Opposition 138
189Ticket to Quick Promotions 138
190Storm in a Tea Cup 139
191Power Scarcity in Abundance 139
192Emergency Fears 140
193Surrender Incentives 140
194True Blue Secular 141
195Saved by the Impoverished Look 142
196Passing the Buck Back 143
197Lords of the Ladies 143
198How to Avoid Shady Deals 144
199Benefits of the Sarkari Tag 144
200Irrecoverable Loss 144
201Honesty in Dishonesty 145
202Timelessness 146
203Abysmal Pay, Expensive Perks 147
204Charged Sans Charge 147
205Class Apart 148
206Mingling with the Crowd 148
207Intimacy, Indian Style 149
208Top Heaviness 149
209Legislative Heat 150
210No Exceptional Circumstance, This 150
211Rightful Reimbursement 151
212Quixotic Criteria 152
213Head Start 152
214Policy Formulation 153
215More the Crises, More the Meetings 153
216Arrant Name-dropping 154
217Carrying Coal to Newcastle 154
218Senior Boss, Senior Airs 155
219Damning One's Own Order 156
220Policy Prescription 156
221False Importance 157
222Seniority Counts.. On Paper 157
223Criticising Safely 158
224Worse is Better 158
225 State Ironies (IV)158
226Picture Perfect – From a Safe Distance 159
227New Problem? No Problem! 160
228Dealing With Old Rates 161
229File Power 161
230Not My Baby 162
231Open Top Secret 162
232 Honest Crooks!163
233Passing the Problem 163
234Money Sets the Ball Rolling 164
235Deliberate 'Error' 165
236Security Burden 165
237Kitchen Cabinet 166
238The Art of Passing the Buck 166
239Few Officers, More Respect 167
240The Faceless, Powerless Abyss 167
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