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Celebrate Corruption
By Sudhirendar Sharma

Despite sincere efforts of honest people and sufficient laws, corruption in India has reached all corners and acquired innumerable hues; still the majority doesn' seem to be bothered. Isn't it time to start celebrating the creativity behind corruption, instead of criticizing it in public and then indulging in it privately?


A policeman taking bribe in public view

Tata Tea has imaginatively used 'khilana', an accepted expression for corruption, in its latest TV commercial as part of its 'Jago Re' campaign to position 'pilana', reflecting a generous offer of tea, as a pitch for its product. While capturing the art of 'khilana' in its diverse manifestations, the commercial uses the tag line, 'Ab Se Khilana Bandh, Pilana Shuru', to acknowledge that corruption is more of a norm than exception.

Reason enough for India to slip to 85th position in Transparency International Global Corruption Index, well behind China (72) and Thailand (80). When currency gets flung on the Parliament floor and cash appears on a Judge's door, there is nothing worse that a growing economy can expect. Curiously, no eyebrows get raised anymore on such exposures.

Gandhigiri has seemingly lost its charm and sting journalism its nip, as corruption reflects a new order of social acceptance. The launch of a rupee zero notes in some districts of Tamilnadu and the proposed introduction of corruption in school curriculum are promising moves to prepare young minds against corruption but its impact may remain esoteric.

Zero Rupee notes launched to fight corruption

So deep rooted is khilana that it's often tough to figure out its origin. It manifests in all walks of life, be it public or private. A study sometime ago had indicated that an estimated Rs. 22,000 crore per year was paid in 'small corruption'. Watch out, the rampant pilferage in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) may shame all previous estimates.       The launch of a rupee zero notes in some districts of Tamilnadu and the proposed introduction of corruption in school curriculum are promising moves to prepare young minds against corruption but its impact may remain esoteric.

It already does, as NREGS' dubious transactions run into millions. With millions at stake, NREGS alone will pull us up the corruption ladder. No wonder, the distinction between 'honest' and 'dishonest' has been blurred - honest being one who takes money and delivers, and dishonest is one who takes money but doesn't deliver.

The flip side to the story is that lamenting corruption seems futile, celebrating corruption should be a sensible choice. Simply put, it is a creative vocation that converts public money into private goods. It is not only creative but contagious too. No one could have imagined the honorable MPs taking bribe for asking questions in the Parliament ?       Corruption is an evolving discipline, each revelation leads to new generation of creative ideas. Such is its depth, dimension and magnitude that one can never get to the depth of it.

Corruption is an evolving discipline, each revelation leads to new generation of creative ideas. Such is its depth, dimension and magnitude that one can never get to the depth of it. Should then the idea of corruption be deplored when we haven't yet fathomed its creative power of unleashing new ideas of making money every moment?

Sample this! A Chief Engineer in one of the northern states was considered honest by his peers. Unlike members of his fraternity, his track record has been seemingly clean. There were neither any allegations nor charges against him. He led by example till the day his unique modus operandi became public.

For covering the cost of a maid servant in his house, he had sought cash contribution from one of the engineering divisions. Shelling out Rs. 2,000 in cash each month wasn't a big deal for the division. Interestingly, this message was conveyed privately to each of the 80-plus divisions and sub-divisions in the state. Over Rs. 150,000 used to be delivered at his home every month.

Had it not been for a chance encounter of two delivery persons representing separate divisions no one would have ever known it. While one was returning after delivering the envelope containing the money, the other was entering the house to deliver his division's share. It then became clear that a carefully crafted design was at work to covert public money into private goods. .

Calling the Chief Engineer corrupt may amount to demeaning his creative talent. Without doubt, there are any numbers of such creative ventures underway at any point in time without anyone getting a wind of them. Only national and state-level awards to honor corruption can bring such creativity to light, a wild goose chase against corruption will remain cosmetic.

Conversely, announcing awards will encourage creativity and competition - bringing much-desired transparency in the system. For sure, television channels will announce talent hunts - scouting Indian Idols for most corrupt ideas. Corruption Training Institute will penetrate cities, small towns and villages. New employment opportunities will be created!

RTI, the right to information, will become redundant as it will get replaced with RTC - the Right to Corruption. (the right we seemingly have but it hasn't been gazetted yet) There will be no scams, no enquiry commissions, no asset declarations and the courts will have time to deliver timely justice. It's hidden talent that is awaiting public recognition. Any takers!

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.

Sudhirendar Sharma  |  Environmentalist, development analyst and columnist  |  sudhirendarsharma@gmail.com

Dr Sudhirendar Sharma is an environmentalist and development analyst. Formerly with the World Bank, Dr Sharma is an expert on water, a keen observer on climate change dynamics, a critic of the contemporary development processes. A prolific writer, he was a senior correspondent with India's leading weekly, India Today, and the science editor for The Pioneer newspaper. He holds degrees in agriculture and environmental science and lives in Delhi. He is attached with the Ecological Foundation.

Write to d-sector  |  Editor's Note

Corruption Watch

The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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