Thursday, August 21, 2008

Rampant Corruption in India: Who is responsible?

Rampant Corruption in India: Who is responsible?
Syed Ali Mujtaba

A wise man that lived in Madras presidency narrated an anecdote that a tax collector (Tahsildar) who was very corrupt was punished and deputed to sit on the shores of the Corramandel coast and was given the job to count the waves. This man even in this found an opportunity to make money and started collecting tax from the ships that crossed the waves that he was suppose to count.

The moral of the story is corruption is an age old phenomena that’s evolving over a period of time. Earlier corruption used to be confined to certain section of society and large sections of them remained untouched. Now it’s a different story and corruption has percolated to each and every section of the society. It’s hard to point out where corruption is not present. We have been regularly fed media report on corruption;. Bofors, fodder scam, MPLAD scheme, coffin scam, hawala, match-fixing, Harshad Mehta, Ketan Prikh, George Fernandez Bagarau Laxman, Joyti Kumaran, Nuke deal trust vote, the list is endless. Every new report pales previous one into insignificance. All of them scream that corruption is growing at an alarming pace in India and if it goes unchecked, the peril of our nation is imminent.

In order to have introspection to the problem of corruption, a Chennai based NGO Nandini- Voice for the Deprived, organized anti corruption meeting on 15th August 2008 (Independence Day) at Chennai. The meeting was attended by over 250 participants consisting of former IAS officers, NGOs, professionals and large number of people from lower income group. The most noteworthy among them was Mr Kalyanam, now 88 years of age and who had served as personal assistant to Mahatma Gandhi.

Mr. N. Vittal, Former Central Vigilance Commissioner, of India delivered the keynote speech and began by saying that corruption has been defined by the World Bank as the ‘use of public office for private profit.’ In our country, there are five major players on the corruption scene, interdependent, strengthening and supportive of the vicious cycle. They are the corrupt politician (Neta); the corrupt bureaucrat (Babu); the corrupting businessman (Lala); the corrupt NGO ( Jhola); and the criminals (Dada).

He added that corruption flourishes in our system because of five basic reasons. (i) scarcity of goods and services; (ii) red tape and complicated rules and procedures; (iii) lack of transparency in decision-making; (iv) legal cushions of safety for the corrupt under the ‘healthy’ principle that everyone is innocent till proved guilty; and (v) tribalism among the corrupt who protect each other.

He further said corruption is a two-way street. For every bribe taker, there is a bribe giver. While the debate on corruption in our country has focused on the demand side of corruption, there has been a thundering silence on the supply side who bribes the public servants and politicians.

The former Central Vigilance Commissioner suggested a three-point plan to check corruption; first simplification of rules and procedures, second is empowering the public and bringing in greater transparency and third is effective punishment.

The important aspect of the meeting was that ahead of it, fifteen colleges from all over India took part in an essay competition “Rampant Corruption in India: Who is responsible.” Eleven college students among them won prizes and were awarded certificates and cash prizes during the meeting. Five of the students were allowed to speak and present their views on corruption in India.

One of them said corruption follows a vicious cycle, but the root cause is the corruption of the political system. The nexus between corrupt politicians and corrupt bureaucrats makes it look that any fight against corruption is the fight against the government itself, he said.

As long as the work is done, it is fine – this attitude of the people could be another cause for the rampant corruption in India. We have a tendency to blame the politicians, government employees or higher authorities in any sector for putting money in their pockets. But, have we ever introspected how true we are as citizens, with regard to the issue of corruption? How many of us do not look for “contact” for getting our children in good school or college, said another student.

The other underlying cause of corruption could be tolerance of the people, almost complete lack of intense public outcry against corruption and the absence of strong and effective public forum to oppose corruption allow it to reign over people.

Another student was intrigued about why that even the well informed people in India have carried this corruption burden for so long and why have they not revolted against it? Is this linked to an unflinching faith in karma theory or is it a reflection simply of utter helplessness, he asked? Even the efforts of great fighters like Anna Hazare have not made a dent into breaking the evil of corruption, and even the educated people are not supporting such efforts adequately, he said.

One speaker said we need a second freedom struggle and the fight against corruption must begin at home. Family and schools are the twin indispensable social institutions which must be activated to fight for value system in life. Functioning of these institutions at high ethical level can usher in a revolution to change the mind set of both the giver and the taker. The pressure must come from the public by agitating against corrupt practices. The youth can make a difference if there are role models for them, he said.

An interesting view was that most people who talk about corruption and ethics today appear to be of plus sixty. Most of them had been part of the corrupt system in public life in one way or the other earlier and had not fought against the issues when they had the power and energy. At sixty when they preach, they do not inspire confidence amongst the youth.

Alarm bell rang when some one said; one would shudder to think as to what would happen to the peace of the society, if the common men whose interests are defeated by the forces of corruption, would feel helpless and take to violence as the only option available to them to tackle corruption. He was obliquely pointing to the rise of the Maoist in India.

Another speaker pointed that if the corruption would continue at the present pace, it may lead to a situation where the corrupt people (both the givers and takers) would become shameless and even a sense of shame would not deter them from indulging in nefarious activities. This situation should not be allowed to deteriorate further and the corrupt forces in the country should be defeated at any cost, he advocated.

Use of modern gadgets like cell phones with cameras to expose corrupt officials was stressed by one speaker. Everyone can become a citizen journalist and make use of modern gadgets to expose the corrupt practices. Sting operation on corrupt official will certainly help reduce corruption to a great extent, he said.

N.S.Venkataraman, Trustee of the NGO, Nandini Voice for the Deprived, and the main organizer of the meeting concluded saying the root cause of corruption is greed and how to overcome it is the biggest challenge before us. He stressed that efforts should be made to develop hatred against corrupt practices and corrupt elements in our society.

Normally on Independence Day, the entire nation remains in a holiday mood. There is little time for anyone on this day to brood over such ticklish issues. Given this fact, efforts made towards organizing such a purposeful public meeting where there was involvement of large section of the society is something laudable. The organizers of this meeting definitely deserve a word of praise.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Monday, August 11, 2008

Begging a blot on shining India

Begging a blot on shining India
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The news of Abhinav Bindra bagging a gold medal in the shooting event at the Beijing Olympics sounds music to the ears. So does the news from Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) that Chandrayan the Indian mission to the moon is all set to take off this year. Definitely every Indian feels proud, especially when it comes at a time when our young and vibrant nation has turned 61 and celebrating its Independence Day on Friday, August 15, 2008.

However, there are some glaring realities that stare at our face when we walk around our motherland on the eve of our Independence. In such sites, the cry of humanity seems to be at large. I can narrate a few anecdotes from my personal experience to illustrate this point.

On a sunny afternoon, I stopped at the Chidambram, some 58 kilometer south of Pondicherry to see the beautiful 13th century temple dedicated to Lord Nataraja. As I walked down the dusty lane to take a look at the fabled temple, I was mobbed by few young females, holding infants in their arms, begging for alms. I was aghast to see a big number of them approaching any foreigner visiting the temple. Most of them were young woman invariably holding toddlers; some of them were sucking their open breast. The cry of humanity haunted me at this site. The call of my consciousness forced me to part away with all the loose change that I had at that point of time.

At another occasion I stood at Chennai’s Madyakailash traffic junction, notorious for long traffic jams. This is a place one has to take on the way to the IT corridor, the Tidal Park. Here one can spot a blind orchestra playing live music from the truck parked near the traffic junction and several visually challenged persons moving around with a collection box begging for alms. The soulful music played by the orchestra forced many like me to part with the loose changes to those visually challenged person.

A blot on Mera Bharat Mahan

These two episodes minutely profile the problem of beggars in the country. There are few distinct type of people engaged in this activity. One category forms of the old aged persons. Those with physical deformity like absence of limbs or having wound forms another category. Then there are child beggars both boys and girls. Young females with infants and blinds form another category. The transgender make yet another category.

There are several places where one may find beggars. One can spot them at local trains, railway platforms, railway satiations, place of worship. They are also found on the traffic signals, subways over bridges, market place and any other place where large number of people generally frequent every day. In short, it’s difficult not to spot a beggar in the Indian social milieu.

The most interesting aspect about these beggars is that in spite of being an epitome of abject poverty, misery, and pains some them are musical artists par excellence. One can find them play old songs, often full of pathos to draw attention and evoke sympathy. Often they would take the name of god and say’ “if you give them one paisa, god will give you ten lakhs.” There are some who can sing incredible folk songs that impresses the audiences so much that they are forced to give them alms.

Cause of the problem

There are several reasons why one is forced into begging. It could range from abject poverty to family problems to failure in business or poor health. Some are forced to beg because their family members have abandoned them. Some women are abandoned by their husband, while some old men are abandoned by their children. Most of them take to begging out of compulsion that later becomes a choice.

While some beg for survival, there are others who take to it easy to earn money. In Chennai rough estimates say that the amount involved in begging roughly could be around Rs.15 crore a year. A member of a blind orchestra standing at the traffic junction could make nearly Rs.2, 000 a day. One good day can fetch up to Rs.200. The small children could even add up to those numbers as they evoke more sympathy.

The census of India counts beggars as non-working persons and begging is an offence under the Prevention of Begging Act, 1945. As per Section 144 of the Indian Railways Act, illegal hawking and begging are banned at railway stations. However, the fact remains that no one can escape them visiting public places.

There are reports that suggest the existence of organized racket involved in this activity. This could be discerned from children seen begging in residential colonies for school fees. These kids carry bonafide certificates from schools which they don’t actually attend but doing this as a job that fetches them Rs 100 a day. Similarly the involvement of significant number of visually impaired persons or females with infants points towards the existence of some gangs. The police however deny this fact and say they have specific complaints regarding any such gangs.

Punishment and rehabilitation

Often beggars find themselves on the wrong side of law. Several beggars complain of police harassment that often chase them away or demand money for letting them to beg. When a person is picked up from the street for begging, either he or she is taken to government remand homes or to the care centers run by non-governmental organizations.

In government run remand homes the beggars could stay up to 15 days and if convicted spend up to three years. Those who stay for long time are taught carpentry, tailoring, weaving and pottery but those who are for short duration often returns to their places and continue begging.

Compared to the government run homes the NGOs are involved in rehabilitating the physically disabled, aged or the juvenile beggars are doing better job. There most of the old that are on the verge of death are given end-of-life care. Those healthy are provided an opportunity for alternative livelihood through education and skills.

The Way out
The exercise of all this is to tell that every developmental index of India falls flat when we see these living signboards scream about the darker side of our county. This concern becomes much more serious when our nation is turning 61. It’s high time that every countryman should take a pledge to weed out such harsh realities from our society. There should calibrated efforts made to house those who are waiting a call from almighty, and to rehabilitate those who are looking for a dignified life. All this could come only dawn upon when there is a realization to think twice as this could be another day for us in the paradise.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at