HYDERABAD: INR 2,00, 00, 000 and counting. No, that’s not the latest figures of someone’s black money hoarded in a Swiss bank. Rather it’s what transpires right beneath your nose, literally. As the thin line between incentives and easy money continues to blur even more, public bribing is on the rise in the country. The figures, just for Hyderabad say it all. The Nawab’s city, a future global metropolitan, has ensured it has not missed the bribe bus, already being party to this form of business, having exchanged over Rs 2 crore in terms of bribe money, spread over a dozen departments that range from police, registration services and excise to even education and pension over the past one year alone. Too little an amount one might say. Only that the figures in question have been totalled based on reports registered by 1,150 Hyderabadis online on the website, www.ipaidabribe.com, where India’s total bribe amount has been totalled at a staggering `43,11,50,000, by a total of 15021 complainants.
Suffice it to say that if the entire 75 lakh population of Hyderabad city or the 1 billion plus population of India, were to register bribe experiences online, the number of zeroes to the figure would have crossed even the mind numbing 2G scam figure.
Chalta hain bhai
That’s the commonplace excuse in vogue today, claims Shashank Rajwadi, a social activist with India Against Corruption and member of the National Alliance of People’s Movement (NAPM). “The system is to be blamed, rather than blaming the officers alone. Citizens know there is an alternative, an escape route, due to which they don’t mind bending the rules. Once the officers are more strict, only then would this mindset change,” stresses Shashank, who in his stint as an activist has never resorted to paying bribes, though many of his friends resort to paying bribes to wriggle out of situations and save time. “Rs 100, 200 fines are very common. And when I hear the word bribe, it is the excise and municipal department that comes to mind first,” he adds. “Though of course, corporates bribing government officials with gifts during festive seasons are also indicators of bribes under a veil. So are instances of the media accepting freebies during press conferences.”
For Bharath Nataraj, currently pursuing a PhD in Comparative Literature at the University of Hyderabad, there are different shades to a bribe. “Today people want to get their things done faster and easier. So the bribe is another form of an incentive to get things done at one’s convenience. But a bribe is a bribe, no matter which shade it comes in.” He further adds, “Many of my friends have been made to pay more than Rs 500 as bribes to RTO officials in the rush to get their driving license. But since no one wants to take the trouble of complaining, such offences go unnoticed”. He also felt that it was certain sections of the society that was always at the receiving end. “The officials are very cautious about the type of people they target. People from lower sections of the society are usually soft targets, especially when it comes to traffic violations and municipal purposes,” said Bharath whose brother had to pay a bribe in excess of Rs 100 to the postman just to get the document delivered to his doorstep.
But while the class of society at the receiving end is debatable, the kind of bribes on offer has taken on a class of its own, in Hyderabad atleast. Here even a ten rupee note can give you a free pass. Or in some cases, gift coupons can. “Nowadays, traffic police have become so desperate that they ask us techies for our Sodexo coupons. Wonder why they do that. Maybe they like fast food,” mocked Anand Lukose, a techie with Deloitte. “I have been charged Rs 500 twice for not possessing the NOC. But once I realised that I could drive my vehicle without an NOC for one year since I recently shifted to this city, I was more bold in responding to the traffic police. But so used are they to the habit, that the cops now request me for Rs 10 or atleast some Sodexo coupons,” he laughed away. Preethi R, a PhD student in the city also recounted similar experiences of parting with her Sodexo coupons, after the cops found she had no cash amount worth mentioning in her purse.
But even as statistics on the above mentioned website, showed more than 600 complaints against the traffic police and motor vehicles department in Hyderabad, GVG Ashok Kumar, DCP (Traffic), Hyderabad City Police, differed regarding the stigma of bribery attached to his department. “Every police officer has to declare the amount of cash in his possession before he is discharged for fine collection duty. Upon his return in the evening, every rupee in his possession is validated with the challans issued. If excess money is found, we ask for reasons. We have found many such cases, and have taken action against the officers involved.”
He further added, “Sometimes the fine amount might be very high, for which the officer has the freedom to reduce the amount and provide chalans related to some other lesser amount offence. But even then, every rupee has to be authorised. If the public have been wronged they can report the matter to the police helpline or post the pictures on social media online, or even call up the police station”, he explained.
Or turn to tools initiated by the government, says Shashank, who has discovered the power of RTI to settle passport, civic, ration card or even garbage collection issues. As the argument for blame sharing continues, Dinesh, an engineer with a state run oil utility, aptly rounds off the plight of his co-government workers. “If the citizens are ready to adhere to norms, we wouldn’t have to ask for bribes. People have every right to complain to the anti-corruption cells in case they are treated unfairly by the officials. But for cases where the officials work extra time for your benefit, it is unfair to term the extra compensation they ask as bribe.”
Stand in queue or buy the black ticket. Else stop complaining. Simple indeed.