Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Thoughts on corruption

I was watching the news and there was a piece of what I call investigative journalism being profiled. You can read some more about it here. A reporter from a TV news channel had masqueraded as a member of the public and went to the Sales Tax office in Delhi to get some information. No less than 82 government officials were caught accepting bribes by a hidden camera somewhere on the reporter’s person. The Sales Tax office is bang next to the headquarters of – get this – the Delhi Police. Whether by chance or not, the names of the only two officers that blinked across the TV screen were of female officials. I don’t attach much significance to it but it certainly does away with any small idea I had that women are less corruptible (is there a word like that?) than men. Ironically, March 8th was International Women’s Day. A day to celebrate women and their achievements, a day to celebrate women achievers across the world and across work categories.

Don’t get me wrong here. While a lot of people in the past have actually called me feminist in the past, I’m not, really. (I am reminded suddenly of Vivek Oberoi who I noticed on TV on March 8th, saying very poignantly that he does not believe men and women are equal, because women are simply much superior, and that’s why when God had to give the job of child-bearing to man or woman, he chose the woman, because she’s stronger. Go Vivek!)

Anyway, so a) as a woman, b) as a conscientious resident of India, I was, to put in succinctly, flabbergasted at that piece of news. I shouldn’t have been – I mean – Tehelka is not really all that old yet, but something about the news made me feel very disheartened. I mean, these are educated people (forget the gender now), working for the government, the provider of facilities to the general public like you and me, and these people don’t think twice before accepting bribes. I think it was the manner in which they did it that got me down:

Reporter: How much do I have to pay?
Official: You know about these things, give me as much as you give others
Reporter: I can give you Rs.2000
Official: 2000 is not enough, at least give me 3000
Reporter: But I had to pay someone else to get some other papers, this is all I can give now.
(Official quietly takes the money

In the night, I was calculating how much these officials must have made over the years. Let’s say, at a conservative estimate, that they deal with 20 people in one day. If they take an average of Rs.5000 from each (I’m sure bigger concerns must be paying way more to bypass government tax rules, and there is a lot of money in sales), that’s Rs. 1,00,000 a day. For a 5-day working week, that’s Rs. 5 lakhs a week, which is Rs.20 lakhs a month. So we’re talking Rs.20 lakhs per person per month in BRIBES. Money hidden under the carpet. Don’t forget as government ‘servants’, these people get a regular salary also.

Most of the 82 people who were caught have been suspended. But with some ridiculous sum of money stashed away in a multiple number of bank accounts, I don’t think they will need a job for the rest of their lives.

Perhaps its not so untrue (though I keep trying to be optimistic because of some of my friends who call me a ‘foreigner’ living in India, when I comment on corruption in this country) that along with the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia, India, projected as a global super-power by 2020, is one of the most corrupt nations in the world.

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