A bold move?

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Dear Editor,

Most of India has been standing in queues outside banks to exchange the now useless 1,000 and 500 rupee notes. Despite the frustrations to the population and the cost to the economy many say withdrawing these notes has been a wise move. Your readers may be interested in another opinion, albeit one that requires me to begin with a tale of what for many in India is an everyday situation.

In July I applied for a landline for my home in Bengaluru. Putting in the application required me to go twice to the office of BSNL, the state-owned landline provider. The first time the application was rejected, but the fault was entirely mine as the proof of address I provided had my address wrong – a fact that I had failed to notice, but which the alert BSNL employee immediately spotted. On my next attempt I was able to submit the application and pay a ₹500 (US$7) deposit. I returned with the assurance that my husband and I would get the landline in a week.

A week went by, but we heard nothing and forgot about the application until some weeks later. Then my husband went to the local office of BSNL to ask about it, but could not get an answer. He gave up and left.

A few days ago, almost three-and-a-half months after we submitted the application, he returned to the BSNL office, where, after searching for a while for someone who could provide answers, he was sent to the office of the deputy general manager (DGM), whose assistant was quick to help. As your readers may know, government offices in India, and sometimes also banks, inevitably have at least one person – often a woman – who knows everything. The challenge is to find this person.

The DGM’s assistant made several phone calls and then informed my husband that ours was a case of “CNF” – cable not feasible – meaning that the existing cables didn’t have the capacity for additional lines. She said that in order to provide us a landline, BSNL would need to dig up the road near our home and lay a fresh cable. But it could not dig the road without the permission of the municipality, which in turn would not happen unless the local elected representative gave the green signal. But here was the catch: chances of the elected representative doing this were slim unless he received a substantial pay-off. As BSNL would not pay, we were not likely to get a landline any time soon.

The withdrawing of high-value currency notes is expected to unearth mountains of black money across India, but will it stop future build-ups of black money? Will it remove the hurdles that currently make it virtually impossible for me to get a landline?

In my humble opinion all that is going to happen is that payments to spur the performance of all work that can be held up and so prompt a bribe will need to be made in the new, rather attractive 2,000 and 500 rupee notes that are finally entering India’s highly cash-dependent system.

The situation on the ground in India can be frustrating, and while the average person takes it in their stride and finds ways around hurdles, an investor – especially one from abroad – may lack the will of steel and limitless patience required to get things done in India.

A resident
Bengaluru