Thursday, September 25, 2008

India and the Corruption

India has a reason to rejoice !!! It is still way ahead of Pakistan and half the world is still down the ladder. India Ranks no 85 (though slipped from no 72 of last year but that’s okay!!) while Pakistan is at 134 , China at 72, Israel at 33. Newspapers in Singapore proudly pronounced the retaining of their country rank at No 4 just below New Zealand, Sweden. Denmark stood out at No 1.

The above number is not the ranking based on quality of live or GDP. This is an index of corruption. CPI stands for Corruption Perception Index (Not communist party of India).

Law defines CORRUPTION as ‘An act done with intent to give some advantage inconsistent with official duty and the rights of others. It includes bribery, but is more comprehensive; because an act may be corruptly done, though the advantage to be derived from it is not offered by another’. Wow… exhaustive definition indeed. CPI used the same definition and focused solely on public servants. India must be unfortunate to have taken thorough beating on this front with our political and bureaucratic system.

I remember two examples of 'Corporatization of Corruption' in India. All other incidents of Traffic, Customs, Ration card bribes pale in comparison with these two.

First was not an incident but a story narrated by my lawyer neighbor who is now no more. When legal arguments were over, He told his client ‘All the hearing and cross examination that you have witnessed was a farce, Real verdict would be decided when we go to the Judge’s house and accede to his demand’. His client was shell-shocked – after all, he had spent considerable amount of money on this lawyer and invested precious time. He dithered for a while wondering if this could indeed be true. Finally, he relented. On one evening, both my lawyer friend and his client went to Judge’s house but only to be confronted by the opposite party walking out form Judge's house. My lawyer friend proclaimed the inevitable “We are late by few minutes. We lost the case".
Second was the incident that I witnessed at the tender opening at one of the big public sector companies in central India. On that day, there were other bids to be opened. I became friendly with the reputed industrial product manufacturers reps that were with me in the same room. They had come from other metro cities. What struck me was their devoid of any anxiety or excitement as they diligently noted down the tender bids. I asked them the reason for this. ‘ Oh !! This is just a drama. Everything is pre-decided by our higher management. They continued ‘It is a cartel that shared the Govt business at pre-arranged prices and profit. Undercutting is not beneficial to anyone”. What a profound philosophy and sound business practices based on consensus and harmony !! . Company is happy, employees are happy, shareholders are happy. This incident happened when India had not opened its economy and Public Sector business was the major segment for any company. Things may have changed by now.
I wonder if corrupt practices are inborn in a person or they are symptoms of the society in which he lives. Some one has said, “Power corrupts, but actually it's more correct that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power.” Does a person become honest and incorruptible because of the values instilled at young age or is it because of fear of law? On the other hand, does he become corrupt because his needs are not adequately covered by his means and only as a last resort, he becomes corrupt. In India, we get high dosage of moral values at early age. We have enough laws to work as a deterrent. Therefore, as a natural corollary our means to raise resources must be woefully short to become corrupt. Is that the reason for ranking so low in the CPI ladder?
When Rajeev Gandhi in his initial years of his being PM made a statement that in India corruption is prevalent only at lower wrung of bureaucracy I too felt that he was right But as I saw specter of corrupt practices among high and mighty section of the Indian society – I realized Rajeev Gandhi was as naive as me . I am sure his views too must have changed as he garnered more experience at the helm of country’s affairs.
In Hindi movie 'saaransh' -सारांश- , director Mahesh Bhatt hammered at the insensitivity of corruption with a telling effect when he depicted a customs burocracy making life difficult for old man who has come to collect his son’s ash urn from customs . Its tragic but true that I have become immune to corrupt practices of Indian society- in fact sometimes I prefer if my work is done faster and treat this as an additional tax. But I still writhe in anguish when I see crooks in dialysis department wants their pound of flesh from a poor patient who has not just lost a kidney but also his wealth, land, wife’s jewelry and peace at home. I am disturbed when district office staff keeps old men/woman waiting for hours just to take his share of bribe from meager monthly pension he doles out as a part of his duty.

The transformation of Singapore at No 4 happened very swiftly when Lee Kwan Yew while cleansing the corrupt society made one big change “any person living beyond his or her means or had property his or her income itself is an admissible proof and evidence that is deemed for punishment ’. When he and his ministers took their oath of office in June 1959, “all wore white shirts and white slacks to symbolize purity and honesty in our personal behavior and our public life. He said in his autobiography ‘The people expected this of us, and we were determined to live up to their expectations’. Singapore gives India a hope that we too can climb the ladder and not take solace in a fact that there are still as many countries below our rank.

p.s. Rediff.com dated sept 26th reported that Cee- Jay House, a landmark office complex in Worli is owned by Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel . That would make it min 5000 crores. So is the case with Kohinoor Mill Real Estate owned by Manohar Joshi/ Raj Thakre. But in india it wont be considered admissible proof of ' living beyond known source of income' or ' abuse of power'

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