Some thoughts on Red tapism and its proliferation


“If we could ever make red tape nutritional, we could feed the whole world.” ~ Robert Schaeberle

It was 8 o’ clock in the morning .The sun had risen in the east. As per my traditional morning ritual I was in my garden ,enjoying my tea and going through the headlines of newspaper and the first thing that caught my attention was the huge header on the front page — “How Red Tapism is choking India’s entrepreneurs”. To grasp more about this red tapism thing , being a regular earthling I googled the term “red tapism” and the following results landed on the first page–
Red tapism of Indian bureaucracy poses hurdle to red carpet: US”; “Red tapism??The percentage of time spent on paperwork has risen from 18.4 per cent of all officer time in 2005 to 19.7 per cent in 2007”;”India Takes On Bureaucratic Red Tape With Series of Changes”; “Red-tapism bad for India’s education system” ;”Prohibitive logistics costs, Red Tapism hurting India’s export competitiveness: ASSOCHAM”;”Karntataka:State Solar Scheme Wilting Under Red-tapism?”;……….
(Behold the mighty Google!!!)
Truly, it’s a red tape apocalypse. The police dept, government offices, corporates, liberal do-gooders, environmental bureaucrats, secularists, trade unions –its everywhere .But what exactly is the beef? What is this red tape agenda and what basically is red tapism? Anyway, this article will kinda act as a tool of understanding the concerned issue and also will act a mythbuster about red tapism as I debunk some of the popular myths associated with it as we flow through the tides of the article.

Before we start discussing Red Tapism- let us first understand what Red Tape is–
“Red tape is an idiom that refers to excessive regulation or rigid conformity to formal rules that is considered redundant or bureaucratic and hinders or prevents action or decision-making. It is usually applied to governments, corporations, and other large organizations.”
                                                                                                                                                                                     – –Wikiquotes
So basically the practice of requiring excessive paperwork and tedious procedures before official action can be even started or completed can be termed as red tapism. Having been originated in the conservative Europe of 15st century as a mere term for building stepping stone for royal works, in present day scenario it has become so intertwined with bureaucracy that One may often confuse bureaucracy with this red-tape agenda. Red tape shows up in and between all kinds of organizations,such as the different spheres of government, in the private sector and in civil society. Although much red tape is created elsewhere in the economic and social system, we specifically focus on red tape that occurs at the local governance sphere, or that shows up in the area of sector or value chains.

Within the definition given above in above context , three kinds of red tape can be identified within or between organizations:
1. Red tapism which is created by rules and regulations that are designed to achieve a specific policy objective and that are thus policy related.
2. Red tape which is created by procedures and systems that do not function in an efficient and effective way due to administrative and management issues.
 Most red tape issues can be classified within these two broad categories which exist within or between organisations.
3. Red tape which is created when stakeholders from different sub-systems exchange information or interact.

The interfaces between stakeholders include human and technology interfaces, customer service and transparency. In highly departmentalised organisations, this third kind of red tape may also be may also be an issue between internal units.

Now time for mythbusters—

Myth 1 : Red tape is created by incompetent or obstructive staff:
The truth is that red tape increases over time as organizations grow and as the variety of routines and specialized departments expands. What is seen as red tape today might be the result of well intended solutions to address specific problems at a specific time. Unfortunately red tape also gets worse over time as the interdependency between different factors is not understood, and the interventions and its consequences are often separated in time.
Myth 2 : If we could only do away with all bureaucracy then we would have no more red tape:
The truth is that many stakeholders actually demand red tape to protect their investments by creating entry barriers, standards, checks and balances. Tourism provides an example where guesthouses often complain that ‘new entrants’ do not comply with certain standards. Red tape in the business environment is critical for firms (and other stakeholders) as it governs how they compete or operate. Therefore, while businesses may complain about regulations, they would also be the first to complain if all the regulations were abolished.
Myth 3 : reducing red tape is a complicated and expensive process that requires legal expertise:
The truth is that there are many red tape issues that can be addressed by local stakeholders without much cost. While some resolutions require legal input, many others only require careful thinking and joint problem solving.
Heading to the consequences , I think the consequences of red tapism can be easily understood in our Indian context. But one thing is sure, whatever may be the reasons of red tapism and whatever may be its implifications it’s the common masses that always end up being wounded as the victims. Every new scheme gets roadblocks in terms of red tapism- and eventually kills the larger objective by which it was launched! That is the reason we may have seen many new schemes being launched by many government and private initiatives but they have not reached to their larger goals- because of the roadblocks. Not only that , the recent reports on TIMES NOW about hundreds of poor infants waiting for cardiac surgery but still not getting free govt treatment due to bureaucratic red tapism and delay has even drawn criticism from International communities .In commercial sectors, many startups are dying even before they get govt approval just for mere delay in authentication process. According to a recent report, It costs India about 13 billion dollars each year on account of red tapism—the money that we could else have used to build schools, build hospitals and feed the hungry and needed.

Experience in various fields of development cooperation has proven that the design and implementation of reforms require a holistic and systemic perspective and an iterative and participatory approach.
Reducing red tape must therefore be seen as a complex, diverse and pluralistic process, which cannot be simply implemented and controlled through one-dimensional hierarchical planning and management. Bringing a multitude of actors to work together and complement each other requires systemic and facilitative interventions towards change. A red tape issue may lead to several symptoms that are created or reinforced by many different causes. Some of these causes may even be external to the organization in which the red tape issue resides.
Facilitating change in a local system has to be based on a systemic understanding of the local context and the red tape issue at hand. Red tape reduction takes place within a variety of different local systems – the economic system, the political and administrative systems, the social and cultural systems – all of which collectively make up the specific local context. At the borders of the locality, these different local systems again interact with other systems at local, provincial and national spheres, such as the national tax regime.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach in red tape reduction. Bringing about change requires an approach that sufficiently takes into account the specific dynamics, the complexity and interrelatedness of a locality and its actors.

I think, both society and government must take ample measures to check the proliferation of ever growing red tapism in our society. I think the recent iniciatives by our government will surely reap some fruits as it tries to curb some of the major factors responsible for red tapism . “ Red carpet, not Red tape“—We are hearing it everyday . New online facilities are being opened to reduce the business related delays. Even the startup India movement is picking up speed. Lets just hope one day we will be able to live in a society that eventually berefts itself of red tapism.

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