Chai Paani

Flights Of Fantasy

[ M Panging Pao ]

What is ‘chai-paani’? Chai paani is a commonly heard term in offices and houses of our society throughout India and Arunachal. Though the term literarily stands for tea, water and snacks, it’s meaning in the real world is a metaphor. The term ‘chai-paani’ generally denotes demands for illegal gratification sought by officials, public leaders to carry out favours from common citizens, like passing files. During recent decades, it has become a common demand by officials and public leaders for doing routine work for which they are already paid monthly salaries/honoriums.

Though simple chai-paani would cost 20-30 rupees only, the office chai-paani amounts to hundreds and thousands of rupees. This chai-paani has become so common that most people have started

to cater for this expenditure in their daily and monthly budgets. It is estimated that this parallel economy of chai-paani and illegal fees amounts to hundreds and thousands of crores of rupees. Common people have to pay for routine forms issued by government offices like application forms, treasury challans, trading licence, ST/PRC forms, admission forms, etc. Patients pay for OPD registration in general hospitals. In fact, money is taken for putting office seals and stamps. The officer signs inside the office and stamps/seals are put outside the office by staff with charges varying from Rs 100 to 200 per seal. Likewise, common people are charged for medical fitness certificates required for driving licences, etc.

The other recent phenomenon is ‘processing fees’ charged in many offices, for which no receipts are provided. These fees are charged by many officials with a straight face, without any guilt or remorse. Common citizens have accepted these as ‘cannot be avoided’ and pay these fees without opposition. To add to these are the unaccounted charges at various check/entry gates and nakas.

These chai-paani and illegal fees have resulted in India ranking very low in the corruption index. As per the latest Corruption Perceptions Index rankings, India is ranked 86 out of 180 countries. As per the same report, India has the highest rate of bribery and use of personal links to access public services in Asia. The Northeast and Arunachal could also be ranked poorly in the corruption index.

An unorthodox solution maybe is to legally and officially collect these chai-paani and processing fees. If collected legally, this huge amount can be used for developmental projects to help the common citizens, like roads, electricity, drainage, etc. Other simple solution maybe is to fill up all required government forms like ST/PRC/trading licence, driving licence fees online.

Should common citizens pay for routine forms like ST/PRC/OPD registration, etc? Should common citizens be charged for seals, stamps and signatures? Should chai-paani be limited to office canteens only and removed from the extended corridors of our offices?

Like our prime minister said, we require ‘more governance less government’. Have you ever paid for chai-paani? (The contributor is retired Group Captain, Indian Air Force)