Wednesday, November 14, 2012

India # 31 Bang, Stamp, Bang, Stamp, Bang Goes the Indian Legal System!

India 29  I meet the Indian Legal System 

India is notorious for its bureaucracy but apart from having my boarding pass checked four times in 50 yards I’ve not seen much of it until needing to get a U. S. business document notarized a couple weeks back.

U. S. embassies and consulates can legitimate the signature of a U. S. citizen but, amazingly, there is no consulate in India’s third largest city. So what to do?

A clever U. S. lawyer says an Indian notary might suffice under an international convention so the ACCION office tells me where to find one and warns me “don’t pay more than 100 rupees.”  So I walk into the courtyard of an old British building and get picked up by a short, black-suited KGB-type guy. He does not want to shake hands.

“I’ve come to have these papers notarized.”

“What for?”  I tell him.

“Thesee papers real estate.  This page 500, this page 500, this page 250, this page 250.”

“I was told it cost l00 rupees.
“No! 1500 rupees or you go home.”

I don’t have any choice so Black Suit and my papers head into a scene that surely could have been played out a hundred years ago.

The ceiling is several stories up in the darkness. There is only enough light to see a row of ancient desks and ancient men before whom people like Black Suit come bearing papers.  Harry Potter would feel at home in the gloom.

My advocate must vie with others presenting urgent papers.  They flip through pages, point to the places for signatures and present the right stamp. Bang goes the stamp on the stamp pad, bang again,bang, bang, bang!

 The notary seems to be in no hurry to move my papers.  Why am I in India?  What is this for, he wants to know?  But surely this will end well with 1500 rupees at stake and some share for the notary?  Another acolyte catches his attention and I have time to notice a young man and woman sitting to one side.  They have come to plead for the opportunity to emigrate and been put on hold.  It would be a good guess they didn’t present the required cash.

My guy recaptures the notary’s attention.  Stamp, stamp, stamp!  Signatures. Another stamp, more signatures, more banging. Then some gold paper is pealed off a roll and affixed to the document.  A seal is produced and crushed into the gold. Then a large book is produced, the master registry. More stamping.

“I assure you I am acting on behalf of the Government of India.  I have been doing this for a long time,” he tells me, which I do not doubt.

I ask if I can take his picture.  No.  Outside, I ask Black Suit for a picture.  No.  I try for a picture of the courtyard where imagination tells me plea bargains are being struck.  No! scold two men in uniform.  I part with 1500 rupees and count myself fortunate to have seen Indian bureaucracy and a minor bit of palm greasing up close.  I wouldn’t want to have left India without it.    



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