Friday, January 13, 2006

Corruption Tales

Here are few interesting encounters I have had with everyday corruption.

1. This was about three years back at Bombay airport. I was coming to India from the US for vacation and was carrying gifts, the total value of which amounted to about Rs.20,000. I knew that the limit for import without customs duty was Rs.12,000, so I was expecting to pay duty for the extra Rs.8,000.

I stood in the “red line” which is the line for declaring the value of goods being imported. I presented the original receipts of the stuff I was importing to the officer. The officer said that I should pay Rs.2,000 (I don’t remember the exact amount now, but it was a couple of thousand). I said OK, took out the money and asked for the receipt.

The officer said that it would take too long to get a receipt and tried to reason with me that it would be of no use to me. I said that I was not in a hurry and was willing to wait for the receipt. This frustrated her. She spoke to another officer and then told me to go without paying anything.

I thought that this was peculiar – not having to pay if you ask for a receipt – but something similar was to happen again!

2. About a month back, I was driving in Bombay and took a right turn at an intersection where the green signal was only for going straight. I got pulled over by the waiting policemen.

A policeman after seeing my license said that I had to pay a fine for dangerous driving which was Rs.500. I explained to him, how I had misunderstood the signal but said that since I made a mistake I will pay the fine. Hearing this, the policeman became very considerate and said that “mistakes happen” and that I should pay only Rs.100. I was surprised at this sudden change, but in any case took out the money to pay and asked for the receipt.

He said, “Why get into this receipt business and put things on record? It is a small mistake so just pay hundred rupees and go”. I insisted saying that I don’t pay without getting a receipt. He said that for that we have to go to the police station and that would take time. I agreed to wait. This was apparently not what the policeman was expecting. After consulting with his partner, he asked me to just go without paying anything.

3. Some time back I was coming from Calcutta to Pune by train. It is a two night journey. For the second night, a person had boarded the sleeper class coach with an ordinary ticket and wanted reservation for the night. The rule is that if a berth is available, the traveling ticket examiner (TT) can allot it after taking the appropriate difference in fare.

In this case the berth opposite mine was empty and the TT allotted it to our friend. Our friend gave the money, a few hundred rupee notes to the TT. The TT took out his book to write a receipt and do his job. But our friend with a great sense of gratitude said that there was no need for a receipt and also that he was not expecting any change.

This kind of situation can make an honest official corrupt. Anyway, here is another anecdote which fits this pattern. It is actually my sister’s experience.

4. It happened that my sister and simultaneously her college-mate got a call from the local police station in Calcutta for identity verification while issuing a passport. They went together to the police station. The young officer looked at the forms and verified that everything was in order.

Now, it was a common practice that during this verification students paid the officer Rs.50 as a bribe, euphemistically a “goodwill gesture”. My sister did not pay. In fact she felt that the officer was upright and honest and did not give the slightest indication that he was expecting anything. My sister’s friend however paid the Rs.50. Both received their passports simultaneously.