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Where exactly is the government?

March 29, 2010

Imagine if getting information from the government was the easiest thing to do- if you could make sense of the mishmash of departments, officers and hierarchy, and government officials were more than delighted to answer your questions, would you still know where to go?

In the past few months, I have made quite a number of visits to Chennai city corporation offices all around the city gathering information to put onto the Transparent Chennai site. These offices are everywhere but they revel in their anonymity, with no visible signboards to mark their location. One could walk right past them everyday and still not know of their existence.

There is a pattern to the office addresses I find on websites and city documents. They sometimes contain a number, a road name and a pincode, but there is no name of the area in which the office is located, and all of us are expected to be pincode savvy. They’re like treasure hunt clues! To find Metrowater, please solve: ‘No.1, Pumping Station Road, 600 002.’

On an average, before I leave for an office, I spend an hour in office looking at the computer using the Chennai Corporation website, looking at Google Maps (very useful!) and repeatedly calling the office number to find its location. But this isn’t always possible. The phone numbers are often out of date or wrong. And even when they are right, calling is not always fruitful. Once, I was looking for the Metropolitan Transport Corporation’s head office and the address on their website only said: ‘Pallavan House, Anna Salai, 600 002′. No building number, no landmark on a street that’s more than 10 kilometers long! When I called the number listed on the website for more details, I was connected to the Managing Director’s Personal Assistant. He flat out refused to give me directions to the location because this was not the number I should have called for asking the address. Usually, I just have to rely on the auto driver recognizing the pincode.

Another time, armed with the phone number, pincode, an idea of the location of the office and my request letter, I set out to visit the Corporation’s Zone 3 office. I got off from the bus near the Perambur station and hailed an auto, and showed the driver the address: “No.71, Dr.AMBEDKAR COLLEGE ROAD, CHENNAI – 600 012″. It seemed reasonable to assume that Dr. Ambedkar College Road would be the road in front of the Dr. Ambedkar College. We went up and down the kilometer long road twice but no sign of the zonal office. The auto driver tried to decode the pincode but that didn’t work either. I called the phone numbers I had but both the numbers ‘did not exist’. None of the people around knew where the office was. After more than half an hour of aimlessly wandering the streets, I saw a blue and white board in the corner of a nameless street 5 minutes away from the bus-stop. Alleluiah!

Now that we have reached the required office, its time to unimagine the ease of getting what we want.

Contributed by – Meryl Mary Sebastian