By Mohan Shenoy
August 2010 Photo
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Corruption is basically giving and taking bribe. This is
what a common man will understand. Other kinds of
corruption do not bother us because they are subtle
and ill-defined. For example the presentation of a
false caste certificate by a candidate to obtain
favourable government employment in India is a
major kind of corruption that plagues our present
society. Another example is stealing a brand name to
mark products manufactured by a different company
than to which the brand belongs. Piracy of books,
music, videos and other intellectual property is also
corruption. There are many other forms of corruption
which individuals suffer because of the circumstances
they encounter in their life.
Corruption has been there through the ages in every
society affecting every government. If we study the
history of the nations and cultures we will come
across the incidents of corruption even during Vedic
times. But giving bribe was not considered equal to
the present day corruption but treated more or less as
a kind of tax that had to be paid to get work done or
get some favours from the officials. The officials
routinely asked for ‘some amount for their personal
use’ from the people who dealt with them. A story in
the Bible tells us of the demands by the guards at the
gates of cities Jesus Christ entered to preach his holy
messages. The guards did not issue any receipts and
the amount demanded was arbitrary. Most of the time
the amount of cash the guards demanded depended
upon the appearance of the traveler. If the traveler
carried any goods for sale or for gift then there would
be additional charges to be paid. This was a common
occurrence in all the communities in those olden
There are accounts written and published by many
travelers who visited India during the past two
thousand years. There are accounts of gold, silver
and other valuable articles that were given as gifts to
port authorities upon embarkation. Foreign goods
were much desired by the officers and the rulers alike
as the compulsory gifts from the travelers who came
to India for trade or tour. If there are no gifts brought
by the traveler then he will not be allowed normal or
free entry.
There was no restriction to give or take such valuable
gifts between the hosts and the guests. Every
European or Middle Eastern visitor to the Mughal
courts was expected to present gifts of appropriate
value and interest to the emperor during the
audiences with the emperor they wished to see. For
every official work done by the subordinate officers
such as Mansabdars, Subedars, Jagirdars and
Amaldars, the client was expected to give money or
gift articles to the officers.
The commonest revenue to the exchequer prior to the
British rule was the land tax in the form of a certain
percentage of the produce that the land-owner got by
working in the fields. Sometimes the land-owner had
to part with up to 50% of the produce as tax. Most of
the officers retained a large portion of such tax for
themselves before handing over the account to the
ruler, the chieftain or the king as the case may be.
The latter were not in a position to dictate many terms
to these tax collectors since they often belonged to
the family of the head of the government. The heads
of the government in those days had large families
with many wives and concubines. The male members
were inducted into the administration as the staff. The
family of the Mansabdars, Subedars etc., were also
inducted as tax collectors or other officers. The land-
owners and the peasants were at the mercy of these
tax officers for both peace and for protection from
bandits that roamed the country-side.
India was conquered by the British using the greed
that Indians displayed for money and gifts. Many
battles were won not by fighting in the battle fields but
by giving bribes consisting of loads of gold coins,
trained elephants, high pedigree horses, canons,
guns, muskets, slaves, beautiful women, eunuchs
and herds of cattle, to the army generals and
chieftains that fought on the side of the local king.
The battle of Plassy and of Buxar were won by this
method of giving bribe to the army commanders who
rebelled against the local prince.
After India came under the administration of the East
India Company there were many states that
continued to be ruled by the Indian King chosen from
among many claimants to the throne. Arrangements
were made and treaties were signed between the
conquered and the conqueror for sharing the state
revenue as well as for the method of supervision that
the British wanted to keep over the state. There were
so-called Residents appointed to oversee the state’s
administration by the vassal King. These states came
to be known as the princely states. The King gave a
fixed amount of money to the British Resident to be
deposited into the English treasury. In addition the
prince paid the hefty salaries of the Resident and his
large staff draining the royal treasury by more than
In the princely states the king in turn appointed tax
collectors for every village and often a fixed amount
of tax was collected at every quarter or six months
regardless of the produce the land-owner got in that
period. The practice of retaining a certain amount of
the taxes to themselves by these tax-collectors
continued during the British rule in these kingdoms.
The amount of tax imposed on the land-owner or
businessman was whimsical and was based on the
bribe in the form of gold or goods offered by the
payer. Mysore kingdom was one of the princely
states. There were about 600 different princely states
in British India when the country was partitioned and
a Pakistan was carved out in August 1947.
Apart from the princely states, there was direct British
rule clamped on large Indian lands in many areas
which the Company conquered. These territories
were ruled directly by the officers whom the company
appointed. The areas were named as Provinces.
Madras Province was one of the first big provinces
that were to be ruled by the company directly.
Collection of revenue in these provinces was through
an elaborate network of officers appointed by the
Company. A town with surrounding villages was
known as a Taluka. The villages or graam had local
governing body known as the Panchayat. A few
contiguous towns together formed a district.
Contiguous districts with natural boundaries were
gathered together to form a Province.
As the administration took hold in the provinces the
British ensured that there was no bribes either
offered or accepted by the Indian subordinate staff in
the government offices. Therefore the British rule of
about a hundred years in these provinces eliminated
the practice of bribery. This became the normal
discipline among the people living in these provinces.
They did not give bribes and the officers did not take
But the administration in the princely states under the
Indian rulers was not averse to giving or taking
bribes. The government staff at every level took
bribes to perform their official duties. The civilian did
not complain because he got his work done that
much easily. The people living in the princely states
were quite used to both taking and giving bribes.
There was no talk of any menace of bribery and no
complaints of corruption.
After India became independent and the states were
reorganised, the culture of bribery that existed in the
princely states hit the people living in the provinces.
Also the bribery caused substantial loss to the
exchequer. The revenue payable by the citizen as tax
to be deposited in the treasury was short by the
amount which the bribe-taking tax-officer reduced the
tax. The revenue collected as stamp duty was short
by the reduced amount of sale price. The customs
officer permitted goods to be imported by taking
lesser duty as opposed to the actual. The amount of
concession the customs officer gave to the importer
was a loss to the government revenue. There are
many such occasions the government officers caused
loss to the government and at the same time enriched
The practice of bribe taking and of giving is
considered as a blot on the society, but it is only that;
a blot on the nation. The fact is the bribe giver is
immensely satisfied in the process.
 The government officer is not afraid to accept or
even demand bribe since he gives a substantial
share of the take to his seniors and even to the
highest boss. Even the highest boss pockets the
bribe money without any question.
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   Those officers who grew up in the bribe-free
environment of the British provinces avoided taking
bribes even in independent India. But these
officers have now retired from service. The present
officers grew up in independent India of mixed bribe
     The common man who does not dislike the bribe
culture gets his work done in a zippy by paying the
standard amount as bribe. To register a sale deed in
the sub-registrar’s office quoting the statutory
valuation price on the sale document requires
payment of about 2% of the actual sale price to the
sub-registrar. The actual price is about 15-20 times
the valuation price quoted on the sale document
based on which the stamp duty is paid to the
   The action of the sub-registrar allowing the sale
document quoting less than the actual price is
causing loss to the government revenue. The loss is
about 15-20 times the amount received. The buyer
pays the stamp duty and therefore he is happy that
he has to pay only about 2% of the actual sale price
to the sub-registrar as bribe and save about 10% of
stamp duty. This is a happy situation for the civilian
on account of corruption. Also the seller gets loads
of unaccounted money which is the amount under-
quoted in the sale deed. He does not show it as his
income and thus causes loss of capital gains tax to
the government. This black money causes him to
spend it stealthily for vices or for further unlawful
     For a death certificate to be issued within a
reasonable period, one had to shell out 300 rupees
in 1991. This is facilitated by the
agent who helps in the cremation.
    To get a duplicate birth certificate one had to
shell out one hundred of rupees in addition to the
normal fees in 1980. The situation has changed now
and these certificates can be obtained within days
without paying bribes.
    Almost every businessman in India pays a larger
amount as bribe than as tax to the government since
otherwise he may have to pay a still larger amount
as tax. For any license to be issued within a
reasonable time following application, the officer
expects a certain amount to be remitted to him as a
bribe. Otherwise the application lies on his table
without action. By paying bribes to the officers in
various departments such as the Slum board,
Labour department, EPF department, BMP offices
etc., the businessman can get his work done in a
reasonable time. If he fails to pay a bribe his work
will take weeks, months or even years.
   To get an electrical connection to his hospital
from the KEB in the year 1978, a doctor unwilling to
pay any bribe had to approach the office repeatedly
for over three months. Later the electrical contractor
acted as an agent to get the work done. He got the
bribe amount reimbursed in his bill.
    A firm with about 25 employees has by law to get
itself registered for payment of provident fund (EPF)
to the employees. The registration for provident fund
is not required if the number of employees on the
muster roll is only 19, i.e. less than 20. When the
EPF inspector visits the firm for inspection he
notices that there are more than 20 employees
working in the firm. But upon examination of the
muster roll there are only 19 employees. This is a
prime opportunity for the inspector to get his
standard bribe amount from the delinquent
employer. The employer saves a lot of money if he
is not registered under EPF, because he need not
pay his portion of provident fund contribution. He
offers to pay the bribe amount demanded by the
inspector. Both the employer and the inspector are
corrupt but happy.
   The country be damned. The loss to the
government be damned. The loss of a vital benefit to
the employees be damned.
    Every citizen who builds a house would
encounter many occasions where he benefits by
paying a bribe to a government officer. He pays
bribe to get his khata certificate, his plan of the
house sanctioned, his electricity connection, water
connection, and sanitary connection to the house. If
he does not pay the bribe directly then his lawyer,
auditor, electrical and water contractors will help him
to reach the government
    Before the self-assessment property tax method
was introduced in Bangalore, the revenue office of
the BMP was a hub of corruption. The tax was
reduced by the revenue inspectors up to 75% with
payment of substantial amounts as bribe. Many
property owners simply paid bribes to the revenue
inspectors and reneged on payment of property
   The posts of revenue inspectors have now come
out of the league of prime posts in the government,
because now the revenue inspectors can not harass
the property owners and collect large
amounts of bribe money.
     Many BBMP properties taken on rent were
completely out of the revenue receipts because the
tenants stopped paying rents and instead paid
haftas to the BBMP rent collectors. The haftas were
only equal to half of the rent payable. Therefore it is
obvious that prevalence of corruption helped both
the tenant and the rent collector and they would not
want eradication of corruption from their lives.
The wives are in the forefront to sustain a corruption
culture because they encouraged both payment of
bribe and accepting the bribe as the case may be.
The purses of the wife of a bribe taking officer were
always full of cash for additional expenses.
     Why were the officers and the people in the
British provinces abstained from indulging in
corruption as against the princely states?
    The superior officers were the white British men
who had a moral obligation to appear honest and
sincere in front of the natives. They had to
demonstrate that they are free of corruption and
therefore superior in culture to the native Indians.
They instructed the Indian staff to refrain from
indulging in corruption. They did not fall to disgrace
for the sake of dirty bribe money. There may have
been a few exceptions but the general trend was
that the British were against either taking or giving
bribe. The natives who grew up in these British
ruled provinces also imbibed this corruption-free
cultures. It may be noticed that the stalwarts in the
present anti-corruption movements had their
education and training in the former British
provinces. The experienced Income-tax officers
would not dare to demand bribes from those who
lived and grew up in the British provinces.
    To eliminate corruption in India, the superior
officers such as the directors, secretaries, judges,
ministers, members of parliament and legislative
assemblies, and other government officers must be
made to develop a sense of fear of being caught if
they indulged in corruption.  It is too much to expect
that they would rise above the greed of corruption
and become models to the rest of the government
    Those who prima-facie appeared to have
indulged in taking bribes must be made to surrender
their bank deposits and movable and immovable
assets if any to be held in suspension prior to
beginning the inquiry. Any complaints of demand of
bribes must be treated confidentially and
investigations must be carried out as an internal
affair of the department without undue publicity. The
complainant must not be involved unless
absolutely necessary. Only his statement and
supporting documents are collected for
investigation. There should be no summons issued
to the complainant to give evidence in person or
appear for cross-examination. There should not be
any favouritism or partiality in dealing with
officers suspected of taking bribes to cause loss of
revenue to the exchequer. If they were found guilty
their property may be confiscated and they are
sentenced to long periods of imprisonment.
   The government at present could help itself by
appointing a commission to study the causes of
corruption and to suggest remedies to eliminate it in
public life, even if such a study is already done in
the past. The times have changed and a fresh
approach is needed to convince the citizens.
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