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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Dumped or declared ‘not traceable’ — files take years to be approved

Getting permissions from the estate office is a test of patience and nerves. While the UT Administration may make tall claims of digitisation, one needs to wait for countless hours, and make innumerable visits to the estate office to be seen and heard by the officials.

Written by Hina Rohtaki | Chandigarh |
February 8, 2021 4:23:57 am
Chandigarh Admin issues showcause notices to several officialsActing on The Indian Express series ‘Graveyard of files’, the Chandigarh Administration has issued showcause notices to several officials to explain why action may not be taken against them. (File)

A staircase with a muddy railing in front of SDO Building office leads to a dingy room in the basement. Step into it and you will be greeted by thousands of files with a thick layer of dust, alongwith a woman official seated in front of a computer.

If one doesn’t make the right moves, their file will either be dumped in this ‘store room’ or will be declared ‘not traceable’– reflecting one of the most prominent characteristics of the estate department.

The Indian Express tracked people who have been frequenting this department for simple permissions, in some cases, for years.

The first case we tracked was that of a 75-year-old Chandigarh resident, UK Batra, who has made over 40 rounds of the estate office. Tired of frequently visiting the office since December 2014 for getting approvals for revised building plans of a plot at the timber market in Sector 26, and another in Sector 47, Batra had sent his attendant to the office of the SDO building to find out the status of his applications.

The reporter accompanied the attendant as he paid a visit to the SDO Building office and first went to the record keeper and inquired about the status of the file, which has been circulating in the department for the past seven years.

The record keeper checked online and said that the file was last seen at the table of a senior assistant named Gill and it has been lying there since November 13, 2019. “Vaise online dikha raha hain ki file Gill sahab ke pass hai Novemer 13, 2019, se…wahan mil sakti hai file…,” said the record keeper. As the attendant questioned the record-keeper about the delay despite having the approval of the PAC, the record-keeper demurred, “Ek baar neeche pata karlo store mein… wahan bhi ho sakti hai… Gill sahab to nahi baithe… aap store mein dekh lo (Check in the store room, Gill sir is not here).”

The attendant decided to first meet senior building assistant Ranbir Singh Gill. However, Gill was not at his desk. After a long wait, Gill’s colleagues said he has gone for lunch, though it was not lunch time.

On being asked to check the status of the file, Gill’s junior, who sits beside him, also confirmed that as per the online system, the file has been at Gill’s desk since November 2019. “Itne lambe waqt se file padi hui hai to mushkil hai (It’s been on hold for so long, it will be difficult now),” he said in a reluctant tone.

As the attendant requested him to get the work done, Gill’s junior said, “Ab ho jayega kya ye 2014 wala… isse Gill se puchna padega… agar ye wo haan karein to entertain karlenge… ek baar discuss kar lete hain.”

On searching for Gill, the attendant found him sitting in a cabin near the JE’s office, talking to people. Gill took their leave only after long and eventually, met the attendant in the corridor. Without looking at the application, Gill told the attendant, “SDM ne karni thi ye to… mera matter nahi tha ye… Mere pass nahi hai file… purani hai…fir bhi check karlenge… Kal pata karunga.”

As Gill left the office, Batra’s attendant tried to look for the file on the official’s table, and was then directed by the other staffers to check the storeroom for it. The staffer at the storeroom, Pooja checked the rack full of thousands of files for a minute, before she gave up and claimed that the file was ‘not traceable’.

“Why did they even keep the file in the store room when the work was not done?” asked the attendant.

As the attendant made another round of Gill’s cubicle and the storeroom, the official’s junior Manoj directed him to meet another official named Praveen– who sent him back to Manoj, making the attendant run pillar to post.

As Manoj expressed his helplessness in locating the file, the attendant began looking for it again on Gill’s table, only to hear the officials whisper to each other that “fees dete hi sath ke sath kaam ho jayega…”

For the last two days, Batra’s attendant has been running around at the estate office– only to be informed that the ‘file is not traceable’.

“This is happening even though the case is approved by the Plan Approval Committee (PAC). It is a technical committee comprising town planner, architect and member of public health committee. The PAC has already approved the revised building plans of my plots… They keep circulating the file and don’t act, so that you succumb to the pressure they want to create. So that when one gets tired, ask the officials for help which comes at a cost. It is very difficult to get work done in Chandigarh,” said Batra.

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