Why the bribe is easier

DQW Bureau
17 May 2011


Anna Hazare's goal of

getting a strict Jan Lokpal monitor is admirable. Let's put it

to the test. How would it be if we all followed the laws? What if

someone paid duty honestly at an airport? Utopia for all, right?

Wrong. An honest life can

be a pretty miserable one because the regulations themselves, or at

least their interpretation and execution, are mala-fide.

Returning from Hong Kong

with an iPhone and sundry items, I needed to pay Rs 4,000 in duties.

I walked into the Red Channel at New Delhi's T3.


When I stopped at the Red

Channel, the officer looked at me very strangely. He then asked me

not for receipts, but what kind of work I did. Then he shook his head

and said that the process of paying the duty was 'extremely

complicated', and he waited. The implication was: pay a bribe and

walk away.

When I insisted on paying

duty, he looked surprised. He then went back in for a discussion with

his manager, which ran for half an hour. He then called me to another

section of the office and again inquired what work I do, and repeated

how complicated the process was. And also that they would take only

cash, no credit card (and I did not have the cash).

When I still insisted on

paying, he told me to leave my baggage, get a pass, step out, get

cash, and come back in. That started a saga: walk out, getting a pass

along the way, wondering if my luggage would be safe, going out to

the ATM, getting the cash, waiting in line to get back in and

finally, getting back to Customs. All in all, it took about two

hours, and I was cursing myself for embarking on this experiment, not

knowing whether, during this foolishness, my baggage would be intact.


Thankfully, it was. I then

had to go to Finance to deposit the funds. At that department, which

was scrupulously all-business, I handed over the money, got a receipt

and walked back to Customs.

I was allowed to take my

luggage and leave.

Lessons Learned: the

Hazare way costs more in time, not just in money, even in this

simplified microcosm. Sometimes, you do not have the time. You may

have perishable goods, or critical medication, or a live pet coming

through. Last year, I had to 'pay up' for getting my dog, Einstein,

through Customs, when we were moving back to India after a long time

in the US. All paperwork was in order, but I was told it could take

24 hours to process it-while Einstein remained caged in the holding

area, without food or water. I had no option.


In a commercial scenario,

goods could have languished for months, ruining any business.

A traffic cop tells you to

pay a Rs 1,000 fine for using your mobile: you are willing to pay,

but then he says you need to wait a half hour in the sun for the

paperwork. The implication is clear. What would you do?

A major enabler of

corruption is over-regulation. Unless electronic clearances are

ubiquitous, the bill can crash growth. Cutting down over-regulation,

as well as the varying interpretation of those regulations by

on-ground officials, can help cut down corruption. This is not to say

that Hazare is wrong-just that his efforts will be incomplete

without a hard look at the regulations themselves, and at those who

implement them.

style="font-weight: bold;">By-Srikanth Rajagopalan

(Srikanth Rajagopalan runs

an SAP consultancy out of Gurgaon and the US. You can find him at or