Municipal commissioner of Ghaziabad (MCG) Ajay Shankar Pande is on record stating “corruption has been so rampant that we adopted a method of officially taking bribes by cheques for the municipality coffers”.
Under this system, a successful bidder is required to pay 15% of the commercial value of the bid by cheque to the MCG. Such a kick-back would ordinarily have been given to employees of the department who have the authority to decide on the bid.
Thus, one bribe giver, who hitherto was anonymous, has been replaced by another, who will be identifiable. Insofar as the bribe takers are concerned, they were thus far covertly lining their pockets, remained unidentified (unless caught), and brazenly continued to foul and fool the system. The bribe taker now will be the state, which had so far pursued eradication of bribery. The legitimization of bribes will throw a cauldron of cold water on the zeal of those pledged to uproot the evil, root and stem.
The operation of a legitimized system of bribes is fraught with ramifications, which will subvert transparency, a level playing field, and bring about an unhealthy and cut-throat competition among bid seekers. Those with deep pockets will swallow small fish, with the state remaining a helpless bystander. Isn’t it ironical that we have a system and a judicial order that was established to curb corruption? What, if any, is the justification for the state to demand precisely 15% as bribe money, why not 25% or 30%? There are no answers to these questions.
Given that bidders apportion a built-in sum of speed money to ensure clinching of the deal, won’t they be forced to cut corners—throwing quality and specifications to the gutters—merely to squeeze out more profit after factoring in the 15% graft?
Empirical studies have shown that allotting tenders to the lowest bidder, disregarding other selection criteria, has resulted in poor performance and delivery. It is not even as if the 15% bribe amount will prevent bidders from secretly doling out additional amounts to politicians and officials, or that the measure in itself will be sufficient to check the rise of the parallel economy.
Furthermore, should there be no accountability or responsibility on the part of such authorities, at least to give a broad outline of how such collected sums are utilized? For example, in many countries, fines collected through traffic challans are utilized to bring about improvements intraffic management.
The single biggest stumbling block stalling India’s upward march, is the poor delivery mechanism, thanks to which there are enormous leakages from allotted funds for projects. This has been borne out by international agencies such as the World Bank. The late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had stated that the delivery mechanism is so plagued with corruption that only 15% of the allotted sum for a project reaches the target or those for whom it is meant. Thus we have bridges, hospitals, roads and schools only in the files of babus, otherwise they are non-existent. Journalist P. Sainath has written that there have been leakages even fromthe compensation outlay for the kin of farmers who committed suicide in Vidarbha.
If the state degenerates into a bribe taker, will it also give admissions in academic institutions and provide jobs to the highest bidder? Of what avail are enabling enactments such as the Right to Information Act?
The luminaries who conceptualized and drafted our egalitarian and non-discriminatory Constitution, will turn in their graves if the state and its agencies indulge in such practices that are inimical to democracy and good order. Can it get any more shameful?
V.B.N. Ram retired as a senior executive in the corporate sector. Comments are welcome at email@example.com