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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Rampant Corruption

The most preferred drawing room subject of today is financial corruption. I sometimes wonder what we would be discussing at intellectual gatherings if ours had been a corruption free society. However all of us Indians having experienced it in some form or the other and at al levels, down from the class four employees to the political masters, have almost achieved expertise in the art of corruption. Corruption is taken for granted and any act having a financial bearing taking place without exchanging the green notes is viewed as an aberration.

It is unfortunate that the malaise of corruption has become rather deep-rooted and also wide spread, touching almost the entire spectrum of life within India. While the malaise that is omnipresent makes life difficult, if not impossible, its one good feature is that it does not differentiate between people on the basis of caste though at times it does on the basis of the financial or power stature of the person concerned. What is really unfortunate however is the national acceptance of corruption as an acceptable social evil with even the corrupt blaming the system for his acts of corruption.

Is this malaise restricted only to India? The answer is NO. Almost all countries of the world are effected by this disease though in varying degrees. While the developed countries are witness to corrupt practices, generally in mega contracts and deals, the population in general remains unaffected by the malaise. The situation in developing countries is worse, with almost every system that effect the life of ordinary citizens, becoming accustomed to the practice of graft. India has however acquired a rare distinction of emerging as a nation where no system has been left untouched by the malaise of widespread and deep-rooted corruption and where nothing gets done, except for the high and mighty, without greasing of palms. All international surveys on the issue of corruption have been unfailingly placing India at almost the top of the index of the most corrupt countries.

In India, God may not be present everywhere, but corruption is omnipresent. Be it obtaining a ration card or getting an electrical connection for a new house, making a driving license or getting your property registered, bending the building rules or getting some one a job in the sarkari sector, getting an FIR registered or obtaining a berth on a train at the last minute, even obtaining a Vespa scooter or a telephone connection two decades ago, almost every activity with the exception of perhaps acts like withdrawing your own money from the bank is carried out under the umbrella of graft, often called speed money. Even solemn occasions like Tsunami or the earthquakes are occasions of joy for the corrupt in the supply chain as there is potential to make good money. Even the judiciary, that was earlier considered beyond reproach is not averse to giving favorable judgements if the price is right. There are kickbacks in almost all official contracts of reasonable value. One may however ask, what are the agencies, and there are many, that are entrusted with the task of curbing corruption doing? They, in my opinion are like one more sentry at one more check-post to be taken care of.

Is the situation redeemable?

Difficult but possible, provided the will is there and the flesh is also not weak. It can happen only if within the sarkari systems, we change the way we make things and contracts happen. “Make things simple to happen” and then things will happen simply without the attendant complications that lead to corrupt practices. Besides things will then happen even at the hands of the so-called average and mediocre and then the country would also have no option other than taking off for the big league. Unfortunately the primitive feudal mindset still continues. During the British rule we were slaves, and the system was accordingly designed to make untrustworthy slaves work. Why we are still carrying on with the same system is what I am unable to fathom. The same old system, which required a hundred thumb impressions for a job as trivial as even buying a spoon, continues. The same old system where everyone is considered unworthy of trust and you have to have a countersignature over the signature of every responsible person continues. Somehow we have ended up believing in and therefore practicing “Make things impossible to happen” as the solution to all ills including the all-pervasive corruption. I quite often wonder why we don’t make it easy to do things. Why even simple matters spin out of control requiring phenomenal effort to execute? Why things happen so easily in the developed and even the developing countries and never happen in our motherland? Why our motherland even after fifty years of independence is still grappling with primary issues like water, electricity and housing? Why we can make one rocket and one atom bomb beautifully and fail in mass quality production of even petty items? Why projects initiated with great fanfare are found rotting only after a couple of months? All this, I feel is because we have made doing anything impossible. I really dream that the country would one day adopt the philosophy of “Make things simple to happen”.

Let us reduce the number of thumb impressions per decision. Let us if possible eliminate or drastically reduce files. This will radically improve productivity, fix accountability and in the process eliminate corruption. Everyone will then be fully accountable for his or her acts of omission or commission and will either pay the price for non-deliverance or enjoy the fruits of achievement besides standing the risk of immediate exposure for acts of impropriety. Another step is to de-complicate the complex mechanism of contracting. Our contractual procedures are so harrowing that ultimately one ends up purchasing poor quality products and services at unreasonably high and sometimes unworkable prices, and also in the process creating ample opportunities for loot.

The only way, in my way, of eradicating corruption is by making the system simple and then coming down swiftly with a heavy hand on offenders.

1 comment:

  1. Well corruption has become a way of life, like the religion we follow in Bharatvarsh. As we say the caste is given to you by birth and you have no choice. Same is the case with corruption in our society you have no choice. Manytimes things do not move without the something extra. I very well agree with your contractors example, and can tell you by my personal experience that many a times I had to stand back and watch after initiating a project; that somebody else gets to eat the fruits of my hard work because I did not know the 10 percent mantra. A system is not corrupt only because takers are there, it is also the facilitators who make it happen. Someone has to start saying no.