The Ascent of Corruption in India. When Will Its Descent Start?
The incidence of corruption in India is so high that one wonders from where do the people learn the art of becoming corrupt. If one wants to acquire a skill, one gets enrolled in a education institute and undergoes a course for a particular duration, is examined and a certificate/degree is given in recognition thereof. But one is not aware of any institute imparting education in the lucrative subject of corruption. Nor has anyone perhaps come across any literature/books on it which are available in the market. Then how is this skill transferred from generation to generation from time immemorial.
Corruption can be of the petty type where small favours are exchanged for small jobs or it can be planned embezzlement of official funds or exploitation of a systemic weakness in a system like discretionary powers or improper transparency etc. Corruption exists equally in both governmental and non governmental sectors and in all classes of activities. There is no guarantee that an highly educated person will not be corrupt. Even NGO's are known to be in collusion with officials to make illegal money. Making money is not the only form of corruption though it is the widely practiced form.
Moral corruption also takes place when followers are hoodwinked by fake spiritual gurus from time to time. It has more devastating effect than financial corruption because it is a breach of faith and one can go into depression and be otherwise also affected for whole life. Abuse of office by elected representatives for personal gain is yet another breach of trust.
Corruption in Ancient India :
One of ancient India's celebrated writers in his Dasavataracaritam advises the king to remove immediately all officials taking bribes or indulging in corruption in other ways from their posts. Kalhana another writer of those times also gives similar advise to the King and also records names of corrupt officials who amassed considerable wealth or resorted to bribery to gain high posts. Kautaliya, a minister in the kingdom of Chandragupta Maurya((324-297BC), has given a list of forty ways in which treasury officials during his time were embezzling state funds. Due to this black money generation took place even in the time when Kautaliya was writing the of Arthashastra (ca 280 BC) leading to similar problems we see taking place in present day economy. The measures to deal with corruption were very much similar to being advocated today.
The fall of the great Roman Empire (ca 476 AD) is attributed immensely to corruption.
Corruption and Religion:
In Hinduism,there is a strong belief that a sinner can wash of his sins by taking a dip in the holy Ganges or by cash and other offerings to the god/s in the temples. This offers a sense of relief to the wrong doer and is practiced in some form in other religions as well but in different forms,like confession in Christianity. Does this encourage or justify corruption and other wrongdoings can be a matter of intense debate. The purpose seems to be to give the wrongdoer another chance to begin anew on a clean slate. It also recognizes the fact that human beings will fall prey to greed and do wrong things and yet life has to go on.
Corruption in Middle Ages :
In the early to late Middle Ages large parts of India were invaded and conquered by foreign invaders,especially from 1000 AD on wards. The majority of the Muslim kings came from outside and made India their home. Muslims ruled till 1857 when the British took over. It suited these foreign rulers to encourage corruption among Indian society as it was one way of consolidating their rule and power in India. The subjects were large in numbers and were Hindus. The rulers were handful in numbers and were Muslims and foreigners. Thus it was necessary for the King and his loyalists to distribute favours among the influential subjects, especially those in trade. to bring them on their side. One of the ways to resort to corruption. Also the common masses had to resort to bribery to get justice from alien rulers and their officials. Thus the two way corruption got nourished and flourished to the mutual satisfaction of the rulers and the ruled.
Before the British officially took over the governing of India in 1857, large parts of India were ruled directly r indirectly by the East India Company, incorporated in England, from 1600 AD on wards. It came as a trading company and through a series of clever moves and through bribery of the right officials and small rulers it skillfully maneuvered to take control of large parts of India. Many a big ruler was defeated by corrupting his army commanders etc. they were interested in trade and the huge profits they could make from it and pay handsome dividends to their British shareholders back home. Many of their top officials looted immense wealth from Indian notable among them being Robert Clive. Some of these articles were recently auctioned at very high prices by his descendants in London.
Thus foreign rule nurtured corruption in India in a big way. It became a regularly accepted practice that if any job has to be got done by officials then one has to pay either nazrarna or baksheesh to ensure it gets done. It suited the foreign rulers that corruption was rampant in the Indian society as it weakened opposition to their rule.It has got so strongly etched in the memory of Indians that it gets passed on from generation to generation.
Corruption in Free India:
In spite of the fact that the freedom struggle was led by individuals of high moral values beginning with Gandhiji, it had no impact on the prevalent practice of corruption in the society, even after freedom was attained. The free India of 1947 was seen as a land of opportunities by all and sundry. Cornering of these was to be done at any cost. The mind sets were hangover of the colonial practices. The few rulers had changed but for it was business as usual. The path for progress was chosen in away where licences were needed to set up businesses and limited resources were allocated by wily politicians and administrative babus. These were available at a consideration popularly known as bribes.
Another booster to strengthening of corruption on a sustainable basis was the style of funding of elections. There is no transparency on this account and this has led to elections being financed not only on a increasingly massive scale but in a hush hush manner from unaccounted funds generally believed to be collected through allegedly unfair means.
In the first few years after independence, in order to give a boost to indigenous enterprises the custom duties of imported goods were kept very high and this gave rise to inefficiency in the Indian industry's they made high profits by making relatively shoddy products. The customers had no choice and markets were assured to these industries. Vested interests ensured continuation of high tariff walls and also cornered as many licences they could by resorting to allegedly unfair means to increase their business empires.
Corruption was gradually getting institutionalized. Power lay concentrated in the capital and a large army of liaison officers was posted from all over the country to run these operations. Cosy relationships were developing between corrupt politicians, obliging businessmen and accommodating officials. This triangle of vested interests has successfully decapitated Indian ethics considerably. Short sighted politicians, professionals, businessmen, builders, traders etc have all connived together to indulge in corruption at the expense of the State funds. To this class ethics and probity in public life and public expenditure simply does not matter.
The liberalisation of Indian economy in 1991-92 budget resulted in abolition of the licence raj a major cause of institutional corruption. This has facilitated international trade considerably and made it relatively much simpler and transparent. Banks have adopted latest technologies and this has brought in speed and efficiency in their operations. Digitisation of data throughout the country is going on and this has resulted in records like land records becoming transparent and to a very large degree tamper proof.
Increasingly more and more government departments are becoming IT savy and this is making them more efficient and transparent. A wonderful example is the creation of the electronic facility of booing railway tickets by the Indian railways. I have not gone to the local railway station for booking a ticket for more than five years, I do it now from my mobile app. Tendering for purchases are now almost universally done through e-tender modules.
The RTI Act has given a very strong weapon in the hands of every Indian for getting information from government departments.
All the above and many other similar measures should have curbed corruption in India but we see that it has not. The manner, style and form of corruption have changed. It has at high to very high levels of power now become more sophisticated and harder to detect. A whole new system of approvals have been introduced for the setting up of industries which has the same purpose as before, that is cause delays and speed up on receiving handsome consideration. Earlier one had to pay for getting licences now one has to allegedly pay for getting approvals, especially the environment clearances. Billions of dollars worth of projects are stuck up in files waiting for approvals.
Corruption at lower levels continues unabated. It is a lucky citizen who when he has to deal with lower level government officials for getting some certificate, endorsement, clearance etc gets it without paying some consideration. Depending on the nature of interaction the consideration amounts can run into thousands of rupees if not more.
Corruption has become a way of life for an average Indian. They have accepted its inevitability. It is factored as one of the costs to be incurred when dealing with authorities who have the power to issue permissions in various forms. The officials indulging in corrupt practices have no fear or shame. most of the time it is openly practiced. This is not to say there are no honest officials but they are in a minority especially at lower levels.
Why Corruption Exists ;
Corruption exists because of greed. When security of service is assured and detection is negligible, officials become emboldened to resort to enrich themselves by resorting to corrupt practices asking for money or favours in kind. When the public has no choice and further progress in their efforts is subject to obtaining necessary clearances or certificates/documents, the concerned officials encash this golden opportunity. The hapless citizen has no option but to pay up and shut up.
Corruption feeds greed but the hunger of greed keeps growing. It requires more and more of money and /or favours. The positional power in the hierarchy decides the span of corruption and the volumes of money and favours one can indulge in. Very rarely one gets caught and the higher up one is in the hierarchy the less chances that he will ever be prosecuted. Generally at higher levels it is a team work and they come to each others rescue.
The fountainhead of corruption in the country is the need for political parties to generate large sums of money to run their party as well for fighting elections. Fund collection is done in a hush hush manner and the donors(?) are not identified. This leads to generation of unaccounted funds also known as black money. The law makers are involved in this activity and in turn are going to go soft on other law breakers.
It is true that very few people will pay taxes to government if they had a choice. So every opportunity to evade tax is welcome and it is widely prevalent in the property business and other speculative trades. Even well known businesses are known to fudge accounts to end up paying less taxes. This seems to be a favourite national pass time.
Can Corruption be Reduced:
Thus corruption is based on greed and desire to acquire more than what one deserves legitimately and therefore it can not be totally eliminated from society. It is one of the vices existing from ancient times and shall continue to do so in future also. However its incidence can be reduced with better education, proper value system in childhood, more patriotism, self pride, better remunerations, clean leadership and more spiritual and god fearing persons in the society.
It is often said that there is no corruption in many advanced countries. It is both true and false. True because the common man does not face corruption like he has to face in India and hence the impression. False because at higher levels it prevails in these countries also, although its incidence may be much less.
In many Western countries there is no petty corruption. One does not have to pay bribes for getting a passport or a driving licence in USA or UK unlike in developing countries. The absence of petty corruption makes it a very good experience for the common man. Outsiders naturally perceive the country very positively. However at higher levels corruption does take place in these countries also.
The sub prime crisis in USA in 2008 was because of greed of earning high incentives by financial marketeers of reputed financial institutions. Loans were given in large numbers to boost performance. These were distributed to economically weak persons for buying properties, most of the time without even verifying their capacity to pay. When the bubble burst, even an iconic institution like Lehman Bros went bust along with dozens of banks. The global economy is still reeling under its adverse effect. The greedy officials were not from the corruption ridden public sector but the supposed to be efficient private sector.
One keeps hearing of high level corruption in countries like Japan, S Korea, Taiwan, China among other countries. Many CEO's of global companies have also been under the scanner for indulging in corrupt practices.
As stated earlier corruption occurs because of human greed. When it goes undetected and unpunished it starts flourishing and spreads like virus in the officialdom. Vested interests keep the systemic corruption alive by purposely continuing structural weaknesses in the system for their gainful exploitation from time to time. Embezzlement of government funds takes place in a well coordinated manner with gains being distributed all along the chain command.
In such well established system can corruption be reduced. It can not be totally eliminated but surely it can be reduced provided the powers to be are sincere in their efforts.
The occurrence of corruption in our country is so common that no one is surprised when a new scandal breaks out. The image of those in positions of power whether in government or outside in matters of corruption is very low. it is commonly believed that lot of progress that many individuals and businesses achieve can not have been possible without corruption. True or false does not matter. In many surveys the people give corruption a low priority in their lives, because it is now an accepted feature of our social system. The moot question is should it be considered as an inevitable in our daily lives. If yes, it can lead to disastrous state of affairs.
If corruption is allowed to go unchecked it is the poor and middle class which suffers the most. Merit and honesty will no longer count. Money power will decide one's fate and opportunities he or she can receive. Corruption not only needs to be checked but steps need to be taken to ensureitgoes down significantly.
A few measures are suggested as follows :
- Fund collection by political parties through donations by individuals / institutions should be made legal and their accounts should be audited.
- Trial of corruption accused persons should be completed in a defined time frame, come what may.
- Convicted officials and politicians should be barred from holding government employment or standing for elections throughout their life.
- The property made from illegal funds should be confiscated by the state from convicted persons.
- Discretionary powers of allotment of officials and politicians holding office should be immediately withdrawn.
- Technology should be increasingly employed to record and transact government proceedings for transparency and paper work should be eliminated.
- Awareness about the ill effects of corruption should be periodically highlighted in print and electronic media.
- Corrupt officials should be named ,shamed and boycotted.
- Moral value lessons should be taught compulsorily in all schools and colleges.
- Use of RTI should be encouraged by all citizens.
- Government officials should be periodically trained and motivated in positive advantages of being honest.
- Whistle blowers should be protected and rewarded.
- Recruitment in government service should be completed fast and in a transparent manner.
- Clean persons only should receive our electoral support. Dynasty supported candidates should be rejected.
- The term of MP's and MLA's should be for a maximum of three terms and CM and PM for only two terms.
- Indians should be encouraged to be proud of their country, its heritage and its achievements.
The above may help in reducing corruption in our country to significantly low levels. Corruption reduction also requires the cooperation of the bribe giver. They have to learn to be patient and give the system a chance to deliver. Most of the time a fear syndrome is purposely created so that one is forced to pay a bribe for getting a job done.
It is our right to expect government officials to do their job in an honest manner. They should feel happy and proud that they are working for their fellow citizens. however entering a government office is like entering a war zone where only a bribe can save you from them.
Finally on a lighter note. A government official when asked why he takes bribes very humbly stated that for serving the government it pays him and for serving the citizen you have to pay. Simple logic. When will this mindset change.
When will Anna Hazare's dream of seeing a corruption free India materialise. At least a beginning can be made .
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