Monday, November 20, 2006

how corrupt is the mumbaikar?

for those of us who live in india, especially in cities like mumbai, corruption is something that we see all around us. in fact it is almost a way of life; the fuel which seems to keep the city going. it is so strongly established and deeply ingrained in the psyche of the common mumbaikar that you wonder if most things would ever function without this all-pervading corruption! :-)

not for one moment am i claiming that everybody is corrupt and that there are no individuals untouched and untarnished by this scourge. but such individuals are more the exception than the rule!

and i have noticed that corruption is the greatest equaliser in our city where everybody from all strata of society have to make their offerings to this modern-day demon with an ever-increasing appetite.

and the corruption juggernaut is so amazingly well-organised and functions like a smooth well-oiled machine. i can not think of any walk of life which is not touched by the long arm of corruption (it most definitely reaches far beyond the 'long arm of the law'!)

let me list some of the places which seem to be so completely sold out to corrupt practices that it seems to have become the norm.

1. rto - have any of you readers ever managed to get your driving license or got a duplicate copy of your rc book in the recent past by going through the regular channel? i think the regular channels have long been sealed with over-grown weeds and thick cobwebs!
but mind you, you could never approach the rto officials directly and attempt to bribe them! that would be unpardonable and you could serve time because of attempts to bribe a government official.
there is a network of 'rto agents' who will get you a driving license or any similar such document for a fee, part of which feeds the entire rto bureaucracy in a very well-organised manner, with the money (rumored to be running into crores) reaching up into all the levels within the rto, all the way to the top. (i honestly don't know where the top is!). and for a fee you could get a driving license even if you didn't know your left from your right! i mean, what does that have to do with getting a license?

2. stamp duty/ deed registry office - this is another place where you could end up running in circles for days without getting anywhere close to registering your document/agreement if you want to buy or sell any real-estate! all the real-estate deals that i have come across, have had to use the 'services' of the friendly neighbourhood 'agent' who manages to move through the registration office as if he is the lord and master of that place! but you must give credit where it is due! they manage to get your registration process completed in the shortest possible time. and i am told that the amount of money the officials here make if far more than they could hope to make in the rto office. here too the money apparently moves all the way to the 'top'!

3. but the award for the most corrupt set of people i have ever come across goes to the customs department! i am told that many of the officers have to pay a hefty amount of money as bribe to get posted into this lucrative department. for the official it is now a matter of recovering his 'investment' and making a neat margin without over-exerting himself in the process!
i had to pay a princely sum of 1000 rupees for bringing in 'commercial' quantities (as defined by the customs officer) of some shawls which a friend had sent with me to be donated as gifts to some senior citizens! but he didn't want to dirty his hands and got a constable on duty to do the disagreeable job on his behalf. the constable told me that he would get a 10% cut and the rest of the money is shared by the officers all the way to the 'top'! he also confided that the daily earnings of the officers ran into tens of thousands of rupees!

4. the saddest form of corruption i have witnessed is the 'hafta' or weekly bribe paid by the street vendors in mumbai to representatives of various agencies including the municipality, the local police, the local don, etc. the vendor has to pay his share of hafta whether his business has done well that day or not. and in spite of paying this 'protection money' they are not assured of any protection when there is a drive by the local municipal ward to clean up the footpaths of the vendor menace. the truth is that these drives are just subtle reminders from the officers at the 'top' to keep coughing up the 'protection money'! the only protection this bribe provides to the hapless vendor is from the people who collect the money!

so whats the point i am trying to make here? that we must fight against corruption? that we must learn to accept it as a necessary evil which oils the wheels of bureaucracy?

i think corruption in society is a reflection of our own greed and selfishness! i think corruption will thrive and will always be present as long as we continue to opt for the easier way in life!

i think corruption in some way is also an unconscious, social mechanism of rationalising the disparities that exist. for example, the government would like to offer free or subsidised services to society. but corruption ensures that the beneficiaries have to finally end up, directly or indirectly, paying more realistic prices for the services they use. (most often they end up not receiving the services at all!)

no that doesn't justify corruption. i think there's definitely some lesson in here about proper governance, but i can't see it! can you?

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