Publised in The Magazine, Dawn on
Sunday, April 13, 1997

You arrive ten minutes early to attend a meeting of the Dispute Resolutions Committee at 10.30, only to be told that you should have come at 2.p.m. Since your case is in category 2 and different from the others, it can be heard only when the appraiser is present. The all powerful appraiser is the person who can make you a pauper by a simple stroke of the pen and he comes only after lunch, busily making millions at the job. The twenty others (who have also been called at 10.30) are the ones who have a grievance agains the SGS, one of the two pre-inspection companies (the other being Cotecna) who had made life miserable for importers before being booted out by the caretakers.

A hundred and five rupees poorer, you go back at 2, only to find that of the twenty people who were there in the morning, the cases of only four have been decided. It seems that you will have to wait until sunset before they call you. Others in category 2 also turn up, but they decide, wisely, to get a new date for their cases. The fat one suggests that you too get another date, but you are determined to see the thing through.

At 4.30, with only seven cases heard, out comes the man who is responsible for your misery. No more cases will be heard today, he declares. The collector has to attend an urgent meeting. There are howls of protest. The man shrugs and goes back. He re-emerges after an hour, takes us to his room on the second floor and suggests that those who wish to get an early date for their cases, pay a hundred rupees to the man at the door. Those who don't, he declares, may not be called at the next meeting. You yell at him, but it has no effect. "Your file will disappear", he says calmly. You threaten to go to the court, but he simply smiles. You move towards him but you are held back by others. Finally, knowing that there is nothing you can do (for your files have disappeared in the past), you take out a hundred rupee note and hand it over. The crowd cheers and a cup of tea is thrust into your hand. The man behind the chair smiles knowing that he has won. You go out wishing fervently that those who run the country could go through what you have gone. Or that the country had a leader who could be bold enough to hang a few corrupt men just once.

By Shakir Lakhani