Dr Paranjoy Bordoloi

A well-organized transport system is the backbone of a country. As one of the fastest growing economies of Asia, both public and private transport in India have shown extensive growth in the last few decades. The number of registered vehicles increased from 55 million in 2001 to 195.6 million in 2016 in India. Therefore, the traffic management and adequate regulatory provisions are a must for the country to provide smooth mobility as per the need of the citizen.

Even in a medium-size State like Assam, the functions like getting new vehicles registered and issuing renewal certificates and licences have increased tremendously. Hence the question: Is the District Transport Office (DTO) system public-friendly in Assam?

In the Kamrup (Metro) DTO office, the renewal of a private car registration certificate may take several days, if not weeks. This time-consuming delay helped none but the growing culture of private agents who are sitting in front of the DTO in Guwahati. Why do many people prefer to hire private agents? The answer is that it would save their time and trouble of visiting the office three-four times for a simple private car registration renewal. Visitors may also get frustrated with the current system of the DTO of Kamrup (M). Most people will not be able to imagine that in the 21st Century after infusing information technology into the office system, one has to visit more than 10 counters for his/her renewal of car registration in the DTO of Kamrup (M). Simple works are done on every counter and if one of the counter staff is not available, then the complete process gets suspended for the day.

On the other side, most of the people feel lost when they enter the DTO office for the first time. The officials sitting at the information desk are not well equipped with different procedures and they fail to properly guide the visitors. Many people after not getting the required support from the information desk of the office need to switch to private agents.

Ironically, people visiting the DTO may get the feel of modernization. Even the sitting room of the motor vehicle inspectors can be compared to any modern corporate office of India. However, the attitude of most officers and staff has remained that of the Babu culture of the 1980s. The induction of interpersonal communication (IPC) in the staff manual is needed for uplifting the output of the office for the greater interest of the public. There are some new rules and regulations introduced in the office management system. However, there is no mechanism to collect feedback from the people whether these rules and regulations are being able to reduce their trouble or not.

The above illustrates the current bottlenecks of the DTO offices in Assam; however, it is also important to discuss the need of reformation. The people sitting at the information desk should not only be trained on IPC to improve their public engagement but also, they should get a computer with an internet connection to give visitors the required information from the website. Way back in 2006, this writer got the opportunity to visit a city transport office of the United States of America. The office had already introduced a Single Window Application system. The matters related to receiving applications including fee collection were processed at the single window. A visitor only had to wait at the counter while the application was being processed. The office had many single-window counters for the visitors. Similar adoption of single window counters may be able to reduce the pain of the people visiting the DTO offices in Assam. However, it is also important to consider the fact that the staff sitting at the single window counters need to be efficient. This will make the system more user-friendly, and perhaps will be the first step to abolish the system of private agents which cannot be tolerated in a State where the Chief Minister himself is talking about transparency and zero tolerance to corruption. It should be noted that the Middle-eastern countries like Bahrain and Oman have introduced the user-friendly system in transport offices much earlier. There are many best practices of single window application processes in India too. One such office is the passport office. A few years ago, people visiting the passport offices in India had to go through experiences similar to the DTO offices today. After introducing a single-window application system, the entire process of the issuing passports to the applicants has become simple, effective and public-friendly. It is now one of the best systems as far as serving the public effectively is concerned. The example of the passport office indicates that the DTOs across Assam also need to adopt a re-engineered process through which the current complex procedures will be replaced by a simplified and standardized process to help the public reap the full benefits of the computerized system.

Another important aspect is that the DTOs are not having a good and effective feedback mechanism. One of the good examples of feedback mechanism by a public servant in India has been shown by the recently-shifted Lt Governor of Puducherry, Kiran Bedi. She introduced an ‘Open House’ in which any Puducherry citizen can directly meet the Lt Governor without prior appointment. This is one of the mechanisms where the public can not only access the authority but also the authority concerned gets direct feedback from the citizens. There was no discrimination to get an entry pass to meet the former Lt Governor of Puducherry; rather, it was the first-come-first-served basis. These types of innovative steps could help the DTOs in Assam to bring good governance in the system in a real sense.