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CORRUPTION
BY MOHAN SHENOY
        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 times.

        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 half.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 bribes.

        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 themselves.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.
        Those officers who grew up in the bribe-free environment of the British provinces avoided taking bribes even in independent India. But theseofficers have now retired from service. The present officers grew up in independent India of mixed bribe culture.

        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 government. The action of the sub-registrar allowing the sale document quoting less than the actual price iscausing 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 tospend it stealthily for vices or for further unlawful activities.   For a death certificate to be issued within a reasonable period, one had to shell out 300 rupees in 1991. This is facilitated by theagent 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 governmentofficer.

        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 tax.

        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 largeamounts 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 todemonstrate 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 staff. Those who prima-facie appeared to have indulged in taking bribes must be made to surrender their bank deposits and movable and immovableassets if any to be held in suspension prior to beginning the inquiry.

        Any complaints of demand of bribes must be treated confidentially andinvestigations must be carried out as an internal affair of the department without undue publicity. The complainant must not be involved unlessabsolutely 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 withofficers 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.


(Concluded)

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