Monday, 14 April 2014

Curious Case of Corruption

There may be a debate on whether corruption is indeed the most dangerous threat to our nation or not, but there can simply be no debate about the fact that no other threat can materialize without help of corruption. Few days back, I was chatting with a friend. When we were talking about the ongoing general election, he asked me, “What do you think? Why do we have so much corruption?” After much deliberation on various topics, we settled on some points on which we both agreed. I wish to document that conversation through this article.

The issue with rampant corruption that we face today is fueled by multiple issues and causes. The mistake we (Government and citizens in general) all are doing is; looking at corruption through same old pair of lenses. Though it is true that corruption of any kind should not be tolerated, but trying to handle all kinds of corruption in same way might not prove to be a good idea in the long run, as it won't be sustainable. To understand this better, let us categorize corruption based on its origin.
We are well aware about the first type of corruption; that is a person filling up his coffers by looting public money. Fixing government bid processes, leasing out public land to big industrial houses for meager amounts, selling public property like spectrum, coal blocks, and gas blocks all come under Greed based Corruption. The only way to check this menace is by legislating strong anti-corruption law and enforcing it swiftly. We all are more or less already aware about this type of corruption. Moving on to the next type of corruption which, I feel, has more wide reach and which affects our day-today life in a more profound way.

Let us take a simple example from our daily life, getting a travel ticket from city X to city Y. There are 20 odd trains running between these two cities, each having around 18 coaches and each coach having 72 berths for passengers. I will skip the mathematics here, but I hope by now you have calculated the number of passengers which our system can support. We do not need to apply any rocket science to understand that the main culprit is the poor infrastructure, which force us (yes, you and me) to bribe a railway official for a paltry sum of 500-1000. I believe, here we (the passenger and the Railway ticket checker) are not looting the public money or killing someone to fill our coffers by swindling government contracts, but we are just making a compromise with the poor standard of infrastructure we have even after half a century after gaining independence (oh! that reminds me, weren’t the public services much better under British Raj?). The bottom line is; if you have more demand and less supply, then this type of corruption is bound to happen, which I feel can be aptly named as Need based Corruption.

We have a shortage of supply in traveling, water, electricity, and every other public service that we can think of; still most of these commodities operate through state machinery, whose performance is hidden by none. The frustrating paradox here is the fact that, we (middle class ordinary citizen of India) earn and thrive on the well-known and well acknowledged concept of capitalism, where we want better services and are ready to pay for it. But, we are at the same time expected to be utopian and socialistic to the core when it comes to availing public services. Why on earth, would a hard working salaried person wait for a railway ticket that will never reach him through legal means, when he can get the desired service through illegal means? For reasons obvious you can't justify one person's need to travel as more urgent than other (thanks to our forefathers that we are not living in a communist state), the only solution is have more seats available to passengers at reasonable costs and services.

Like a simple railway berth, there are many things which we need to lead a healthy and happy life. We may/can check the Greed based corruption through legislation and laws. But, if we seriously wish to remove the Need based corruption, then we need to have our complete focus on growth of infrastructure and economy or simply choosing a government which features this quality. Of course, we all have to be an integral part of this journey, just assuming that one superman will emancipate us all of all our sorrows and problems will not work.

Edit: I found this very informative and enlightening blog by Mr. Alex Paul Menon, IAS

Feel free to share your experience with corruption, where you have felt that it could have been avoided if we had enough for all.

Jai Hind,

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  1. Very nicely put Abhinav. The points that you have put aptly describe the situation that we face today.
    I feel that the “Greed based corruption” is the root cause which has an effect which we see in “need based corruption”. Let us take the example of the railways. For the past 60 years there is not much improvement in the way we travel. No railway minister till now has done anything to drastically change the travel experience of the ordinary citizen. Any big decision which will improve the situation necessarily involves kickbacks. This leads to a poor infrastructure thus paving the way for “need based corruption”.
    One wrong decision at the top cascades to every level and can create big problems for us. Thus getting the right people elected may help us resolve most of these issues. Now will India elect the right people is the real question.

  2. wow ! I never thought of categorizing corruption based on its origin. Indeed a good governance can directly target to curb greed based corruption but eliminating need based corruption will need support of people too !
    once again, nice read !! Keep it coming :)