On December 19, 2001, Mr Joginder Singh wrote the article, 'The anatomy of corruption' - on how, at least in India, corruption exists because none of us want to stand up for our rights, none of us want to wait our turn in the queue and all of us try to find ways and means of circumventing the system for making our own life easier. Whereas Mr Singh has gone into great detail about the "why and how" of corruption, I think he has missed a vital point.
Admittedly the infrastructure is poor, services are inadequate and as such only a few can avail of (a) better quality of services and (b) unfair advantages; by giving petty bribes. We all complain about corruption. Corruption as a way of life, corruption having pervaded all echelons of the Government, about politicians and babus being corrupt. Few, however, pause to think that corruption begins with us, as individuals.
I want to build a small house. So I tell a broker to find me a plot of land. The broker does some running around, assured of collecting two per cent from each side, and shows me several plots. When the price is discussed, I am told that any deal above Rs 50 lakh must have an advance clearance from the Income tax authorities. Even for deals above Rs 5 lakh, some permission is required.
This clearance is not given easily, even if the price is right; so the broker and the seller suggest that I sign the agreement for Rs 35-40 lakh and pay the balance in cash. In fact, they would be happier if I could somehow make three or four different agreements of Rs 4.5 lakh each and shell out the balance in hard cash. They also tell me that by doing so I would gain substantially as I would be paying significantly lower registration charges and property tax, since these are - without reason - based on the purchase price.
I have never understood why property tax should have any relation to the price of the property - it should depend only on the extent of civic services enjoyed - but I can't shout loud enough to be heard; so I give in and take the easy way out. I convert a few lakhs of my hard earned white money to black and make the deal. I now cheat the Government on the registration fee, property tax and later wealth tax; the seller in turn cheats on capital gains tax; the broker gets his full due but again pays income tax only on what is officially given to him by cheque. That's not corruption, is it?
Now, if any one of us is brave enough to stand up and say "no" to such transactions, probably more and more deals would become above board and the Government will start getting full taxes. This might even lead to a reduction in the tax rates, eventually.
After purchasing the plot, I have to start construction. My architect tells me that I can cover 70 per cent of the ground area on each floor, but my wife and I are greedy and feel we need another 200 square feet; so the architect tells us that he would construct the additional area and "fix" the corporation officials to get approval. Some more corruption.
Construction over, we need electricity and water connections. For my two window air conditioners and assorted geysers, heaters, irons, etc., I need a load of 10kw. This is not possible due to the power shortage, and furthermore the charges for 10kw load are too high. So the DESU inspector suggests an easy way out. He puts the cable and metres for 10kw, and officially records it as a 3kw connection. Of course, the inspector must get his chai-pani; and I give it to him. Same thing happens with water. Water is in short supply and the inspector, with a little tip, can put a pipe three-fourth of an inch thick instead of the mandatory half-an-inch thick one. Did I hear some one say corruption? This is why mutual back scratching.
We talk of corruption in the income-tax departments. But on whose bidding is it there? No businessman wants his accounts under the microscope - probably more for saving trouble and discomfort and not so much to cheat on taxes. He, therefore, tells his chartered accountant to be a little nice to the ITO and get his assessment completed expeditiously. With the income tax laws being complicated, even the most honest businessman's accounts has holes in it. The ITO - and I am holding no brief for him - knows he can pick on these and demands his fee. We are glad to fork it out as it will save us the bother of having to go there and explain all the entries. It used to be the same with in the DGTD (thank God it has been wound up now) or the CCI (wound up) or banks or the CCIE (again past tense) or the SIDCs, mainly because no one wants to fight the system.
Even the gods are not spared. After spending hours in the queue for a darshan at Tirupati nobody wants to spend more time in yet another long queue for buying prasadam, especially when, with a little extra payment, you can get it almost immediately. I don't know who is more corrupt - me, paying the extra amount or the little guys who spend all day standing in the queues and collecting prasadam for re-sale? If I wasn't too lazy to stand in the second queue they would have no customers and would be out of business.
So, who started the whole thing? It is the age-old "chicken and egg" story but we are all involved in it and none of us is doing anything to get out of the morass. None of us wants to stand up and fight for our rights, none of us has the time to wait for our turn, none of us wants to be deprived of any creature comfort, any prime locations. And life goes on.
Published in DailyPioneer