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Anna Hazare has today started a fast against corruption in New Delhi.

I am dedicating this article of mine "Corruption- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" which I wrote on 07.03.2010 in my Blog  "microMUSINGS"  to Shri. Anna Hazare's effort to curb corruption.


 Corruption- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The biggest legacy the English rule has left behind for my country, India, is the bureaucracy. The babus (clerks) and the chaprasis (peons/office attendant) at the lower end, business class aristocracy at the upper end, the red taped file-pads and the green ink signatures, the wooden rulers and the writing pads so on and so forth. Visit any office of the state or the central government and just watch the infrastructure, or just observe what is going on in these places and you will be in for the surprise of your life. I have always got a feeling of getting into a time machine whenever I visited the nearby Tahsildar’s office. It may be the Tahsildar’s office, Collector’s office, the Regional Transport Officer’s office, the Commercial Tax office, the court office, the Post Office or the Education Officer’s office; they are all the same. The sight of cluttered files, dumped records gathering dust on shaky shelves, vintage wooden tables covered with faded green table clothes, Turkey towels covering back rests on vintage chairs, ceiling fans doing their rounds religiously on worn out ball bearings giving the office-room the typical audio-ambience of a screechy rhythmic noise without which the description of an office would be one notch less, piles of files page-marked and waiting to be attended with the page marks looking like popping tongues of dead bodies hung on the noose. The best of all the reminiscences is the iconic chaprasi/peon/attender, which is the first hurdle you come across in a series of stumbling blocks, in a stereotyped setting, successfully passed on from the British Raj days. The fetish for the colonial inheritance is so much ingrained in our offices and its systems that most of the state governments still follow the rotten Tottenham system of office noting and drafting. Not much seems to have changed despite all efforts to computerize government offices.

One attribute that would be conspicuously missing in a typical government office is the smile on the face of the employee. This is one virtue that has been thrown to the winds, as the employee has been, over years, successfully indoctrinated by his/her own environment to frown and scowl at the visitor. When you visit a government office the first thing one should consciously do is to save your precious smile for some other responsive social setting. In offices where there is a huge scope for interface with citizens of the country, government employees have been over years systematically transformed themselves into brash morons and even a few friendly faces would have eventually morphed into sullen ones over years of indoctrination .

Having started my career in State Government Agriculture Department, the first stint gave me a chance for an introspection and in the next two years I moved on to a public sector institution and then a private sector company before finally settling on doing something of my own for my livelihood. Based on my observation, I can now say that the incidence of corruption was always at its high in the government departments and I also understand the reason why archaic systems were still being followed in the government offices. A total revamping of the office procedures and systems would deplete the chances of corruption and perhaps that is the reason why we still stick on to an archaic globally forgotten Tottenham system, or for that matter, any other obsolete systems and procedures. More than the office procedures and systems, it is the complete erosion of ethics, by the all time greed to make easy money right from the level of chaprasi to the top echelons that has led to this deep rooted rot in the country.

With corruption having set its tap roots so deep and with adventitious roots and prop roots down there supporting the tap root, it has grown like a gargantuan Banyan Tree. Corruption, symbolically, is not only deep rooted but also wide-spread. If the sub-terrain roots depict the corruption perpetrated by the people within the various departments, the terrestrial prop roots that support the tree can be compared to the outside patronage received by politicians and political parties for permanent perpetration of this practice. Among the various departments there is a scramble for the ‘best ones’ as soon as a new government is formed or whenever a Minister is appointed for the particular department. In the State Government the Transport, Commercial Tax, and Public Works Department are the hot ones as there exists well built concealed conduits in all these departments for transfer of money to the top. As fighting elections has become a heavy investment for political parties almost all of them eye for this opportunity and no body would never ever cut this golden goose. In the name of replenishing the drained out coffers of party funds, the top echelon indulges in this act as a matter of right and in the process siphons off some for his use too (just enough to buy a Porsche, Hummer or BMW for his kids as toys!!) and after a stage continues doing it under the pretext of raising funds for the next election. For the links in the conduit, irrespective of who is the top echelon the foraging process just goes on religiously with a work ethic and dharma that is virtually skirmish free and smooth.
There are departments, like the education and agriculture departments, which are ‘dry’ and do not provide scope for the creation of concealed corruption conduits. It is when the employees of such dry departments indulge in corrupt practices, due to momentary impulses to make a quick buck or two that they get caught in the act by the target-happy vigilance department and news is flashed in the media. These small fries may not be doing the act with the dexterity and knack of the rampant ones in the established conduits and therefore would easily become a prey to these hotly published vigilance raids. A sensible citizen will know that these are the small fries in a rotten system where well established syndicates operate and transact huge sums of money day in and day out.

History of corruption traces the practice to the days of the British Raj when British officers had set the practice of taking small favours/tips from contractors, suppliers and other stakeholders. Post independence, the precedence of the practice was reason enough to continue it. As years passed on, typical conduits of corruption have been devised with well laid down rules of the game which each human link in the conduit will have to religiously follow. Post sixties ministers and local politicians became crucial links in the conduits, so much so, that they have now become the high end terminuses in the conduits.

When in the early seventies politics became a ‘profession’ I still remember an incident which gave a chance for my father to explain the situation. My mother had gone to fetch water from the road side tap in our colony that day. We were living in a housing unit, having ninety houses, where mostly government employees were allotted houses in turns. A new lady had come to fetch water that day and my mother got acquainted to her. In the course of the conversation she informed that her husband’s profession was politics. I still vividly remember the day when my mother, rather innocently and inquisitively, asked my father, “Is politics a profession?” My father explained with a sense of shame and remorse in his deliberately used low voice, “Politics was not a noble social work anymore and the days of great politicians like Lal Bahadur Shastri, Kamaraj and C. Subramaniam are out. Politics has come to stay as a profession as there is money in politics.” He further lowered his voice and said, “Yes. It is now a livelihood and only God knows how they earn their money. They should be powerful too. Just look at the way they have managed to get their flat allotted to them out of turn.” These were words of my father, a teacher since his first day of service, and every word was indicative of the typical middle class moral thinking of that time.

So who are the good ones in a typically corrupt office/department? In a typical office were a corruption conduit exists you would still find a few good ones carrying on their job throwing a cool Nelsons eye on the happenings around. This category of employees may be fully aware of the conduit and still would have opted to remain clean. Such people would not normally be coaxed by the conduit members to join them but in turn would be judiciously used in ‘non-committal’ positions. For example the good ones may end up as a record clerk in a Regional Transport Office, a reception-cum-writer in a police station, instructor in a training outfit of the department, so on and so forth. This person would never speak about the existence of a conduit in his/her office. The links in the conduits never fear this lot of their comrades as potential informers or whistle blowers as the good ones ‘behave’ oblivious of the happenings in the office for fear of reprisal.

The next category is the more good-less bad category. This is the category which cannot afford to be out of the conduit as their very existence in the department would be at stake if they do not do their bit in the conduit. The constant fear of being neglected and ostracized, fear of being transferred to difficult places/ hardship areas, denial of promotions, drive this category of employees to get into the conduit. Therefore, a conscience driven person would still join the conduit and opt to remain clean. Yes, it is a difficult proposition. Given the chance of a constant temptation of taking his/her legitimate share in the conduit, a person needs a conviction of Casablanca to stay put clean in the conduit. Many fickle minded ones would soon sway to the next category. One needs to have a high sense of conviction and a bit of chivalry too to be a part of the act of passing on the greased money to the top echelons without laying ones hands on it for their share or in other words without greasing ones own hands. The person opting to be a more good-less bad category needs a strong will power to desist from the perpetual temptation of taking a share of the booty.

The more good-less bad category may be sticking on to the conduit under the impression that they are only victims of a system and after all they do not take a share of the booty and therefore may be absolved from any attempt of framing them up as corrupt. They may be logical in assuming so. They go by the logic that giving bribe and taking bribe is a crime, and just passing on the money amount as not a crime. All said and done these guys would be in a safe haven till everything goes on smoothly. The fact however remains that if such conduits are sincerely busted all hell would break loose and each one of them would be accountable.

The next one is the less good-more bad category. Here the person sheds all his/her inhibitions and takes full participation in the conduit’s activities by not only enabling the smooth flow of the booty down the conduit but also takes a predetermined small share for being an active member of the conduit. These are the ones which can afford to lead a lavish life style, own cars, possess houses in almost all their household members’ names depending on how long they have been in the conduit. A few years back I had a chance to talk to a senior Central Government Officer in Chennai who had got transferred from another metro a few months back. He said that he wanted to get rid of the rut in that metro and had opted Chennai thinking that his department would be better in Chennai. He soon found out that his compatriots in Chennai were in no way better. Corruption was so rampant that many of the top officials in his office, where there were many parallel conduits working, had so much of their share that many were maintaining more than one ‘family’.

In offices where such corruption conduits work the crucial links in the conduits namely the more good-less bad category and less good-more bad category all work in unison and the whole conduit is safeguarded so securely that no watchdog can ever smell what is going on. No one would know when money comes, from where it comes, and where it goes except the conduit members. All members in the conduit work so religiously that no beans are spilled at any cost at any point of time.

All said and done there is a perpetual danger of a Damocles sword hanging on the heads of these persons. What if someone in the link unexpectedly goes berserk due to personal animosity or personal grudge or due to sheer jealousy? What if he turns out to be the whistle blower? A member of the conduit would indict his compatriot or a group of them by remaining incognito but he would also land up in trouble eventually.

The ultimate category is of the ugly ones. These are the impatient ones which jump the conduit’s rules, out of sheer greed, to make a fast buck. These are the underworld dons of the bureaucracy. These are the ones which own vast stretches of land in not only all names in their extended families but also in fictitious names. These are the ones which blatantly profess the religion of corruption with all impunity when in government service and later seek immunity in politics, religion or social service by starting trusts- a clever way of transition from impunity to immunity.

Corruption is a national sickness- an epidemic where middle class morality, value systems and lip sympathy are the only cheaply available prophylactic- an epidemic which affects all segments of the society, the worst being the poor and gullible- an epidemic for which the diagnosis, prognosis and remedy are all done by the public themselves since they themselves are the vectors (carriers) of the virus - an epidemic which is much loathed and despised but little effort has been put forth to prevent the spread- an epidemic which has penetrated into every nook and corner of the judiciary, police, military, central & state governments, public sector, private sector, and religious institutions. Corruption is an epidemic with which the people of the country have learnt to live with.
P.Uday Shankar

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