Thursday, November 22, 2012

At whose cost ......

I first became aware of dicey use of public/taxpayers' money in the early 70's.

We lived in a colony of two multi storeyed buildings, constructed for government employees, meant for those who were in the IAS, IPS and Judiciary(as Judges), with a bunch of ministers thrown in , who resided in the two topmost flats in each building. While there was nothing surprising in the retinue of cars, staff, beacon lights, and security staff for ministers, what would amaze me totally, was that folks in the police service were just a notch below as far as such facilities were concerned.  Chauffeur driven official cars (with official petrol) , one police constable sitting in front , one standing outside the house to run errands for the lady of the house, children being driven to school et al.

This was amidst judicial types who even took the bus sometimes, or car pooled every week.  Or some like my father who drove his own ambassador to work every day, paid for his own petrol.  My mother ran her own errands, bought her own vegetables, was often plagued with getting good household help.  And  given a choice between helping in the kitchen and washing the car, I always chose the latter, once prompting alarming phone calls from some of my mothers acquaintances in the next building, because girls of marriageable age didn't have to be seen washing cars in the garage and feeling good about it .  On the odd occasion that my work timings coincided with my fathers, I got off where he did, and walked rest of the way.  I don't ever remember being "driven" to work/college etc.

Sometime later , I noticed that every time a government worthy was accused of wrongdoing, and an investigation initiated, he would complain about chest pain and get admitted to a government hospital ICU.  He would be there for days and days, occupying , at government cost , a bed that could have been used to help a really sick individual, who would even pay for it.  Chest pain was a smart choice of malady. It could be due to anything, and it was your word against the doctor's.  MRI's were not yet there, ECG's happened, but chest pain was chest pain, rest was advised, and crooks lived in ICU's at government cost, with all kinds of security personnel guarding them , instead of society being saved from such folks.

With some modification this still continues.

 Now with the addition of several categories of security due to what is called threat perception.   At one time there were 34 constables, several police jeeps,  a few police inspectors  and so on assigned to the security of one individual in Mumbai. It went without saying that his/her  family members  also moved around with security . I mean , could anything be bigger than attending a kitty party with security, or kids attending school with assigned security ?   Every time these folks moved around, a cavalcade of 7-8 cars, sirens, beacons would accompany them. To this day , this kind of security remains a status symbol. We must be the only country where actors, MP's move around with visible security provided by the state. 

So I am not surprised to see that everyone now cribs about the crores spent on the security of the lone captured terrorist of 26/11 , late Ajmal Kasab, the specially built court premises in the jail, the security of the judge, the prosecutor and so on. Today's Indian Express shows Rs 41.81 crores (see this link)  as the total cost of looking after Ajmal Kasab, the biggest expense being the special security, and built infrastructure and fees of  specially appointed officers. Clothes, food and medicines are a very minor second.

But then some folks get ideas from this kind of stuff.

Six years ago, I had a substitute household help called Changuna for a few weeks, who lived in the same neighbourhood as my normal household help S.  This is a locality where, there are very few houses with a male head of household, simply because some are dead after a life of alcoholic excess, and some have abandoned their wives and disappeared.

Few women like S, are lucky to have a united household, where the children have gone to school and are now gainfully employed.  Changuna had 2 sons, One was a trained tailor, married with 2 kids, and a wisp of a wife who he beat in regular alcoholic stupors . He hardly worked. The other son, started off as a local goon, got arrested, sent to jail, and Changunabai would go one afternoon a week and see him along with some lawyer type.  She was finding it difficult to make ends meet with such sons and just her household work earnings in several houses.

One fine day the older fellow was released from jail, and came home.  He started throwing his weight around, and causing trouble. Did not work, and became demanding and drunk.  The resident son couldn't help  in any way, and it was just the women and children of the house versus these two fellows.

Finally, Changuna went to the police. Complained about the elder son who had been to prison.  He was arrested, and sent to jail again. I don't know under what crime .

Changuna came the next day for work, and told me about this latest arrest. She didn't seem to be upset; but rather relieved about it.

"He does no work, picks fights; one son doing nothing, I can manage. Both of them are good-for-nothing chaps.  So many mouths to feed, and so much money demanded for drinking . The children have to go to school, and they see all this.  I thought this guy was better off in jail. His meals and housing is taken care off.  I don't have to worry, or scrounge more more money.  Who knows what scrapes he will get into here, and I will have to rush and handle things. Tell me, how many earning and how many eating ? "

I had no answers.

No z+ security, no chest pain, no ICU, no nothing; but she had learned, from the biggies, how to make the government take care of you, for free.....  


  1. Come to think of it, she did the right thing, did she not? Locked him away where he won't be a public nuisance and menace to society? :-)

  2. What an eye opener this was!! Awesome post!

  3. There is a clamour for red beacons atop the car. Now you know why!

  4. most of us have stopped thinking at whose cost ! :-/

  5. The daily challenges and their unusual solutions !Nice post Suranga.

  6. Fascinating. I love the way you write and I can always picture it all unfolding before my eyes. sometiems I have thought that prison mybe an easier option or the convent. I am joking but it has crossed my mind....