Red tape is a much discussed and adversely criticized term, which refers to the rigid adherence to the formal official rules that is considered completely unnecessary strictness, causing inordinate delay in decision making. It is a process which involves wastage of valuable time and thus hindering the natural flow of activity. Usually it is applied to the bureaucrats or the officials in the government departments or the corporate bodies, who either tends to avoid responsibility for obvious reasons or tries to take undue advantage of the situation to make extra money, by delaying the decision. The system of the infamous Red tape includes unnecessary paperwork, filing thousands of prescribed forms, submitting numerous attested documents, harassment for obtaining approval from different departments located in different places, facing interviews with different committees of multiple persons, tactfully negotiating the possibility of bribing the dishonest but influential officials, getting different licenses, which make the process of progress extremely slow. Red tape may also include investigation, inspection, favourable report and thus resulting in unscrupulous transactions of money.
It may seem to be strange, but in fact, the practice of referring excessive and unnecessary bureaucratic rigidity as ‘red tape’ is not a modern concept, it dates back more than 400 years.
It is believed that the term ‘red tape’ originated in the early 16th century, when Charles V, the King of Spain and the Holy Roman Emperor started to use red tape in an effort to modernize the administration of his vast empire. Charles V was the proud heir to the three most powerful and famous dynasties of Europe, the Habsburg, Valois-Burgundy and Trastámara. At the zenith of his power, his empire stretched from Hungary in the east to Spain in the west in one hand and the Netherlands in the north to Sicily in the south on the other. He had a coordinated, well orchestrated and well organized administration system to manage this vast empire.
During those early days, important administrative documents along with the relative correspondence and the instructions relating to each particular matter were bound together with strings or ribbons or pieces of cloth to keep them separately in one bundle. Sometime during the 16th century, it became necessary to differentiate the most important matters from those of less significance. Hence, it became customary to tie the documents relating to the most important matters that needed immediate attention of the authority at the highest level, with red strings or ribbons or red tapes.
Soon the system started to spread all over Europe. Attracted with the efficacy of the system, Henry VIII, the King of England from 21 April 1509 to 28 January 1547, adopted the policy to use red ribbons or strings to secure the petitions he sent to Pope Clement VII, requesting the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon in 1527.
It is therefore, evident that, the system which once proved to produce a desired or intended result without delay became a symbol of inordinate and unnecessary delay with the passing of the time.