Writing about the bureaucracy, Shikha Dalmia, argues that India is a long, long way from kicking America's economic butt, thanks to its babus:
India, I am quite confident, ain’t going to perch its tricolored flag atop the globe anytime soon. Not until it does something about its soul-sapping bureaucracy. The world’s largest democracy doesn’t have rule of law — it has the rule of babus, the local term for petty bureaucrats. And so long as they keep challenging India’s entrepreneurs, there isn’t much chance that India will challenge the West.Dalmia goes on to describe the ordeal she and her family faced with bean-counting babus. I bet every Indian has more than a few horror stories to tell, and they might even think her story is nothing to write about!
... India’s horrendous bureaucracy systematically thwarts its citizens, killing productivity, often for no apparent reason but to exercise its powers over them.
Dalmia makes an important point:
[A] routine matter that shouldn’t have taken more than 10 minutes swallowed 30 hours of our lives. Yet, by Indian standards, ours was a happy ending. Episodes even more Kafkaesque than ours are replayed daily across the country. We had time, resources and the savvy to devote to a matter that, ultimately, didn’t have existential stakes for us. But what about, say, a poor rickshaw driver who needs a license to earn his meager income? Or a farmer who needs the title to his land (something that can take 240 to 400 days in some parts of the country)?Yes, yes, and yes.
It is the gross inefficiency at these everyday levels that make life so cumbersome in India. Even opening a bank account is a ten-minute affair in the US, in contrast to the day(s)-consuming operation it can be in India, as my niece recently found out. A bank account where we go to entrust the bank with our money!
In Poor Economics, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo often point out how the everyday small things, about which we don't even think twice, are awfully time and energy sucking activities for the poor. In India's case, the babus make it worse, when their job is to, ironically, make things easier for the public they serve. So, yes, a rickshaw driver or a farmer is screwed, many times over, by the bureaucracy.
Kafkaesque bureaucrats, indeed!