A Stinking Pile of … Paper

Today marks the end of my registration paperwork for setting up my phone and my apartment. I wanted to see what it would be like to do this the right way, so I endeavored to follow all the rules to get a SIM card and a real lease. It’s been a long journey.

The Law of Unintended Consequences

India developed a ridiculous process for procuring prepaid SIM cards because it has increasingly been a hotspot for terrorism. Starting with the partition of India and Pakistan and the border war that followed, there has been a long history of violence, and not just from Muslim extremists like the Indian Mujahideen. You could make a laundry list of different violent religious and political groups in India. More recent events like the 2002 Gujarat Riots, the 2003 Gateway of India Bombings, the 2006 Mumbai Train bombings, the 2008 Mumbai Attacks, the 2010 German Bakery Bomb, the 13/7 Mumbai Bombings in 2011 and the 2013 Hyderabad Blasts make clear the need for anti-terrorism measures, but it remains debatable what measures will be effective. Since most of the attacks were coordinated with prepaid phones, the extra steps are supposed to be a measure that prevents prepaid phones to get into the hands of terrorists.

There are many problems with this:

  1. Anyone determined to kill people as a political statement is not going to be deterred by the process of getting a SIM card.
  2. Rules only work when they can be enforced AND when there are no loopholes.
  3. People who would otherwise try to follow rules will become frustrated with the formal process and circumvent out of convenience, reinforcing a lack of respect for rules and regulations. This logic applies widely.
  4. These types of rules make it harder to do business, which hurts the economy.
India Ease of Doing Business, World Bank (Click on Image for Clarity)

India Ease of Doing Business, World Bank (Click on Image for Clarity)

Before the SIM Card There Was the Apartment

Before I could experience all of this SIM card fun, I needed a place to live. In order to rent an apartment here, you must find a broker, who will charge a ridiculous amount to find you an apartment. Finding a good broker is a bit of a pain, and recommendations from friends come in handy. Things like Craigslist are mostly used by brokers, so there aren’t too many direct deals between landlords and tenants. This is probably due to the amount of paperwork/appointments needed to rent a place. I’m okay not knowing how hard things would have been without the broker.

For a formal lease, you must negotiate the lease terms in a thirty page document. Once the terms are agreed upon, you submit copies of passports, visas, photos, proof of employment, contact info for proof of employment, fingerprints, proof of previous addresses and post-dated checks for rent. If you are single women trying to rent a place, there needs to be some kind of appropriate parental presence to validate that you aren’t prostitutes (seriously, this is the assumption of many people- in this case, my roommate’s dad came to meet our landlords). Paperwork gets submitted to the police on behalf of the landlords, and a separate police background check is necessary for the housing society (similar to an HOA). Later, all the renting parties and all of the owning parties need to show up together at the police station to have a photo and fingerprint taken. This whole process takes forever and requires much negotiation, time, and paperwork.

Relevant Discussion, or “How to Feel Guilty for Complaining”

I’m actually blessed to have paperwork. I was able to furnish countless passport photocopies and verification to these businesses, middlemen, and government entities that demanded them. Between my files and the internet, I can trace most of my life in a big paper trail that most of us take for granted. Many people do not have this luxury. According to Unicef, only 58 percent of children born in India are registered at birth, and of those registered, not all have birth certificates, meaning that millions of people don’t have access to the cycle of documentation.

For example, you need a birth certificate to get a ration card and you need a ration card to get a driver’s license. Many of the papers that people have in rural areas are invalid when they move to a city- a big problem in an age of increasing urbanization. This means that before people can even think about waiting in the registration office to validate a lease, they must somehow acquire new identification. Judging by how difficult all the rest of registrations are, I’m certain that the process of acquiring new ID is near impossible or requires lots of “fees”. I can’t imagine the frustration. If you want to know more, see this article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-18141584.