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Torture the taxpayer for turning up to pay

What we saw

The motor vehicles department in Bengal is possibly the only place in the world where you need to bribe someone to be able to pay tax to the government. A Metro reporter returns enlightened by this epiphany after a visit to the Regional Transport Office (RTO) in Barasat on Tuesday.

Maybe the government doesn't want my money. The first official I approach on my road-tax pilgrimage to the Barasat RTO is so unresponsive that he refuses to even acknowledge that I exist. And all I wanted to know is where I could pay the exchequer that pays his salary and, in the bargain, have my car retain its right to be on the road.

The same query to a second official elicits a practised turn of the neck that guides me to the rear of the same building. I take my pick from a row of doors leading to a long passage lined with queues without a beginning, a middle and an end. This is where I will spend the next three hours - marvelling at my own patience, feeling the urge to turn into a violent activist, imagining how the ceiling would look without the giant cobwebs and then, finally, gladly accepting the services of a tout.

I guess this is how it pans out for most people. The RTO system is designed to frustrate you into accepting the omnipotence of the tout-employee nexus. In the end, you bribe your way to freedom from torture.

The touts are a smiling bunch who will tell you at the beginning exactly what it takes to pay your road tax - this photocopy, that photocopy and this form and that counter in the other building next to the one you are standing in. "Excuse me, could you repeat that?" I ask the man, who in another life might still want to be a tout because of the respect (and the money) he seems to command.

" Aapnake jete hobe oi building-e tax assessment- er jonye, tarpor eikhane insurance tulte hobe computer -e...tokhon giye tax dite parben (You have to go to the other building for tax assessment, get your insurance details recorded here and then only can you pay tax)," he replies.

The offer follows. " Aami shob ekta counter-e kore debo ekhuni. 500 taka lagbe, aar kicchu bolte hobe na (I can, of course, get all this done from one counter. I need Rs 500, no need to say anything else."

Deal done, I look at those who stand their ground and wonder what is it that they know and I don't. I briefly contemplate my easy acquiescence, only to conclude that the ones who don't give in are either more determined than me or have more time to spare than the average person.

All this while, the tout of my choice is getting my tax submission processed by calling out the name of the clerk at the counter up to 10 times a minute. Each time he does that, he also reels off my car's registration number. I wince every time he does that. Congratulations, Barasat RTO, on making me realise that I am not morally infallible.

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