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A bribe-fighter’s diary

A bribe-fighter’s diary
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First Published: Thu, Aug 18 2011. 08 30 PM IST

We, the people : The supporters of social activist Anna Hazare hold a candlelight march in Bangalore on Wednesday. Photo by Shailendra Bhojak/PTI.
We, the people : The supporters of social activist Anna Hazare hold a candlelight march in Bangalore on Wednesday. Photo by Shailendra Bhojak/PTI.
Updated: Thu, Aug 18 2011. 08 30 PM IST
This extract from my diary is a true account. Names have been changed, as has the location of the crime.
29 July, 5.30pm
Call from Roshni. Says she wants to register her property tomorrow, without paying a bribe. She is buying a villa from a builder. There are indications that she must pay. I tell her not to pay anything. Take her through the blogs and the stuff up on Ipaidabribe.com. Promise to help when I return to Bangalore the next day.
30 July, 9am
We, the people : The supporters of social activist Anna Hazare hold a candlelight march in Bangalore on Wednesday. Photo by Shailendra Bhojak/PTI.
I get a message from Pratap as soon as I get off my flight to Bangalore. “Hi, I’m Roshni’s husband. I need to talk to you about the land registration. We are going in an hour. Can I call you?” I call back and Pratap says the bribe demanded was Rs25,000, for which no receipt would be given. The registration is going to take place at the Mxxxxx sub-registrar’s office. I give him the usual spiel. I tell him that there is absolutely no need to pay a bribe. There is a Citizens’ Charter which says that the registration will be completed in 2 hours and 20 minutes. The Charter also says that one must not go through middlemen. I pull the old time-worn trick. I suggest to him that he tells them that he is being supported by Ipaidabribe.com. Also who I am; former IAS officer, principal secretary, revenue department (I smile to myself—that was only for four days). I tell him that in the meantime I will call the chief secretary and the inspector general of registration and commissioner of stamps (IGR) and inform them about this robbery. Is Pratap convinced? I can’t tell.
SMS Ramesh Ramanathan, co-founder Janaagraha, for the mobile number of Thomas, an office bearer of the local association of builders. Ramesh sends me the number pronto.
9.15 to 9.45am
I make an informative call to Thomas. He is an old friend, but we haven’t been in touch for a while. I explain the situation to him and give him an update on the Ipaidabribe.com action on registration. I tell him that our statistics show that a large number of cases where bribes are paid for registration are intermediated by lawyers and builders’ agents. I also apprise about our meetings with the registration department officials, where we learnt that the agents collect money in the name of the officials, but do not pass it on to them. Completely denying such happenings, Thomas tells me that the bribes are forced upon builders. It is a well-operating network out there, he says. Builders engage lawyers, who are paid Rs3,000 to Rs5,000 for each registration, for preparing the sale deeds and other documentation. Like in the courts, there are registration specialists among lawyers who arrange for a quick registration. Batches of buyers of flats and land are taken to the registration office. Earlier the bribes paid were about Rs5,000 per registration. Now it has gone up to Rs20,000. That tallies well with the amount that the builder’s agent quoted to Pratap—Rs25,000 without a receipt.
What is the solution? I ask Thomas. “We also do not want this. It is humiliating,” he says. (Sometimes I feel sorry for the registration staff, all the money gets passed upwards). The problem with all land-related issues is that if there was no corruption, land and flats would be 15% cheaper. The McKinsey report of 2002 says this. The approvals in BDA (Bangalore Development Authority) take 15 months. This is all speed money.
I inform Thomas that Ipaidabribe.com has suggested some reforms. We do believe that land is the biggest problem. It is so obvious that urban issues make money for politicians. All chief ministers in India keep the urban development portfolio with them. Check this out if you don’t believe me, it’s an interesting observation.
I suggest to Thomas that I will meet him. He will fix up a meeting with the lawyers, and will volunteer to give us all the information. This will be put into a mind map—a process document that looks at all the steps from selection of the land, to getting approval, registration, building and giving khatas. Excellent discussion with Thomas. This is going somewhere. But have to solve Pratap and Roshni’s problem as well.
I call my colleague T at work and ask her to investigate how many chief ministers are in charge of the urban development portfolio. That might throw up some interesting insights.
I get another call from Thomas. He seems enthusiastic about collaborating on doing something about curbing registration corruption, as well as all land-related issues.
I call Pratap. I reassure him and remind him of names to drop. I tell him to inform the registration staff about how their CM is on his way out of office because of corruption. I ask him to be confident and brash.
I get a call from Pratap. He informs me that the lawyer is demanding a bribe! I ask Pratap what other people are doing. He says that everybody is paying and what’s worse is that they are willing to pay. With a sinking heart I once again advise him to inform all the people getting the land registered as to who I am and that I will speak to the IGR; as well as the chief secretary. I also ask him to throw in a mention of the Lokayukta for good measure. Pratap sounds confident but there is a hint of trepidation in his voice. He is not comfortable doing this. Nobody is.
My son asks me why I was using four-letter words on the phone.
I call up the IGR. I tell him that even as we speak, his officers in Mxxxxx are demanding bribes for registration. I tell him that I will prepare a case study and inform the chief secretary’s office. He replies that he will call up the Mahadevapura office to tell the sub-registrar not to collect any bribe.
I call up Pratap. Tell him about my conversation with the IGR. More confidence-building.
IGR informs me that he has spoken to the sub-registrar. The sub-registrar tells him that only the lawyer has come. Nobody else is there. He assures him that if the registration is required he will do it immediately.
I apprise Pratap of my conversation with the IGR. Pratap laughs. He says, they are all waiting downstairs, the sub-registrar is lying. Ask him about the others in his group. They all are OK with paying a bribe. The lawyer is willing to give him a receipt. I ask him not to accept a receipt and sound him off about the standard charge for registration, which is Rs5,000 as lawyer’s “fee”, and not Rs25,000 as demanded.
I call the IGR; tell him that his sub-registrar is lying. Utterly frustrated, I hang up the phone. Utterly frustrated.
Finally, I get a call from Pratap. Having finished his job without paying a bribe, he thanked me and told me that the lawyer was not happy. The lawyer and the builder’s agent told him that had he mentioned to them that he was unwilling to pay a bribe, they would have arranged for him to do it accordingly. When batches of registrations are processed, one needs to pay for facilitation. I say it’s OK for him not to pay, but I feel utterly sick that everybody else thought it was OK to pay.
Pratap lingers on the phone. He says his father hated the government and saw nothing but trouble engaging with it. He says he left the country and came back and does not want to have any trouble. He says that he is worried that there might be more trouble. The deal was that the villas will be built and then they would be registered. However, the land itself is being registered now, because the guidance values are likely to go up. So there is a spate of registrations and hence, bribes are booming.
I say that we cannot have a colonial mentality. The government is ours. There is no point complaining about India if we do not engage with the government or ask questions. It sounds corny even to me. Pratap is polite, but one can sense his discomfort. He is worried with what the builder will do in the future. I tell him there is no need to fear anything. He has not committed a crime.
I call the IGR again. I tell him how his staff has taken bribes. He says that the sub-registrar tells him that the lawyer is notorious for collecting money in the name of the sub-registrar’s office. I say that I will prepare a case study and send it to everybody.
I call up the Mxxxxx sub-registrar’s office. The recorded message says that the number does not exist.
Pratap calls again. Says the lawyer is now demanding Rs15,000 as his fees. I tell him to only pay Rs5,000, because that is the standard rate, as per Thomas’s advice. After a long conversation, Pratap says that he would like to meet me. “Sure, anytime,” I say. I ask him what he can do for us. He tells me that his expertise is in designing the look and the feel of websites. He feels that he could contribute a great deal to our work on improving government websites. I make a mental note for using him for improving the transport department website.
3.30pm onwards
I watch Dravid grinding away in the Test match at Nottingham, while working on several reports at once. I reflect upon the gains and losses of the day. I was able to help Pratap but could not convince his friends. I did not make headway with the registration department. When will people resist corruption? When will they get over this predominant feeling that they do not want trouble? What we need to conquer is fear. It sounds so clichéd. Dravid is deeply inspiring. Ipaidabribe.com should follow his success mantra—determined, working away at the basics, with the faith that victory will soon be in sight.
See mail from Pratap.
Hi Raghu,
Thanks for today. My expertise is in process re-engineering, systems design, bottleneck analysis, usability, ease-of-use of computer systems and the Web, interaction design, and how to make things easier to use.
As such, any info communication system like sarkaari websites or creation systems like Web applications, dashboards, etc., are my forte.
Please let me know how I can contribute.
Dravid gets his hundred.
This article first appeared on Ipaidabribe.com, an anti-bribery initiative of Janaagraha. The author is a Bangalore-based anti-corruption activist, a former IAS officer and the spokesperson for Ipaidabribe.com.
Write to lounge@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Aug 18 2011. 08 30 PM IST