T R Raghunandan, a retired civil servant in Bangalore, is leading an online campaign at www.ipaidabribe.com, a site that allows citizens to report incidents of government or bureaucratic corruption.
Q The home page of the website says its main objective is to "uncover the market price of corruption". What does that mean?
A Corruption is an all-pervasive phenomenon in India. We need to know all its dimensions before curbing it. On the site, we collect anecdotal evidence from people who were forced to pay a bribe for certain tasks. This information allows citizens to compare how much bribe is generally paid in different cities to say, a passport officer or a traffic cop. Besides bribes paid, citizens also narrate instances where they resisted paying a bribe or did not need to pay a bribe at all because of an honest official. By crowd sourcing information, we draw a pattern; we derive our very own bribe-o-meter.
Ratan Tata recently revealed how his plans to start an airline were thwarted by an Indian minister who demanded a bribe. A fellow industrialist called him "stupid" for not paying up. Mr Tata said he refused to bribe because he couldn't bear the burden of guilt. What would you say to an Indian businessman who argues that kind of moral uprightness is detrimental to business?
There is this perception that paying a bribe gives you an edge over your rivals in a hyper-competitive world. People believe it's impossible to be corruption-resistant and do business simultaneously. That is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in our country. The truth is that India's regulatory apparatus has not kept pace with the speed of economic liberalisation. It will take years before our regulatory strength improves, but businessmen need to bear in mind that if you pay a bribe upfront for a short-term gain, you are a long-term loser. By putting a premium on honesty, Ratan Tata has raised the bar for other businessmen. His honesty is a reflection of his high business standards, his honesty with his customers.
That sounds inspiring. But practically, how do you say "no" to a bribe-seeking official without hurting your business?
Often we are willing to be led like lambs to the slaughter. Government officials usually play on your fears, on your ignorance. By doing just a little bit of homework you can avoid paying a bribe. Don't ever go to a government office believing the officer there is doing you a favour. There's no need to be obsequious to him. Never accept an oral rejection for what is rightfully yours. For example, in Bangalore, the citizens' charter says you can register your property within a matter of hours without paying a bribe. If the officer says "no", show him the citizens' charter and ask him assertively: "under which rule, sir?"