12 December 2010

Pay up or shut up

Since December 9th was anti-corruption day, this was a much talked-about topic in the papers over the past few days. Yesterday a rally was held in Bangalore against corruption, dubbed ‘Saaku' (Enough). According to a recent survey by Transparency International, India is the 9th most corrupt country in the world and 54% of Indians paid a bribe in the past year.

Indeed it seems like paying a bribe is almost inevitable if a person wants to get any type of official document like a marriage certificate, driver’s licence or passport. Avoiding high traffic fines by slipping a bill to the traffic police is considered to be normal practice. From opening a bank account to securing a place in a good school, or even a seat on the bus (see below), or basic essentials like access to water and electricity, people are often given no choice but to pay up.

A website called ‘I Paid A Bribe’ has been getting a lot of media attention lately. It’s a public forum where people can air out their grievances by posting their experiences with corrupt clerks and officials who have demanded bribes. I have included some of the situations ordinary citizens encounter on an everyday basis below:

Paying a bribe to open a bank account:

Post marriage I had to re-locate to Delhi… and because I did not have any document to establish my proof of residence as a local I wasn't being able to open an a/c in any bank... until one of the Officers at SBI Bank suggested I pay him Rs.1500/- and he would get a letter from the local MLA stating that I have been residing in Delhi since a long time. I did precisely that... and was able to open an a/c in the bank with 1 day only!

To obtain a marriage certificate:

I went to the sub registrar office along with my wife to get our Marriage certificate. The concerned officer gave me the details of the documents - He briefed regarding documents. When asked for the fees as per him 120 rupees for the document charges and 1000 rupees as misc charges.

We were startled at that time because there were 10 pairs along with us. Even if I take 20ppl comes daily for marriage certificate..... the officer will be easily grabbing 20,000 rupees per day.... That means 6lakhs a MONTH!!!!!!!!!! I needed the certificate badly so I did not had any option other than to pay...

To get a seat on the bus:

Lady conductor of volvo bus (KSRTC) took 100/- extra for providing seat. I was in urgency so didn’t find other way...other than paying her. Don’t know how much she is earning per day like that..

To register a property:

I had my Registration Check ready since June 2010. Had told my builder that I will not be paying a bribe to get MY HOUSE registered. The Builder told me that the registration will not happen without a bribe. Attempted it, but they just refuse to talk to you. And not being a local is another problem. The guys treat you as if you are from a different planet.

After waiting for around 6 months, I gave into the demands. I paid INR 13000 as a bribe. I asked the builder to see if it can be reduced. He said that they have negotiated this price. The Registrar's Office charges around INR 20000 otherwise. This is a definite nexus between the Builder and the Registrar's Office.

To obtain a birth certificate:

Birth certificate... it’s very difficult to get when you are not famous in your town or someone who doesn’t know any one in municipality office... The officer openly asked me bribe for certificate 2000 Rs.

To get a passport:

I think I should start from the time when I got this new job which offered me an opportunity to travel to Netherlands. What I learned from fellow colleagues was that I need to grease the officials at every step, especially in UP, where I was planning to get a doc stamped.

I thought if my documents (birth Certificate among others) to be stamped are genuine and if I am in no apparent hurry, why would anyone ask for a bribe. I was wrong.

There is only one babu in that office who deals with such applications. He asked me to write an application to the registrar to stamp my birth certificate. Within 10 min I was back to his desk along with the application. He started off with saying why it is not written in Hindi language, and that he'll accept applications only in Hindi. I did that in another 10 mins. He looked at it and asked me to put it on his desk as he was going for chai-pani break. I waited for him for almost 45 mins before he came. He then looked at the application and said , Aahh! It should've been a typed application and not simply written by Pen. I then rushed to the typist and got it printed. He looked at it again and said: Don’t you know all such applications are typed on the stamped paper? I was losing patience now. I asked him why didn’t he tell me that earlier? For the reply he said, you guys should also have a taste of hard work. I complied and got him the application on a stamp paper. By that time it was already 5 and he was about to leave, so he asked me to put it on his desk.

Next day when I reached his office, he was out somewhere, and when he came back , I learned that he hasn’t yet added the application to his daily tasks file. I requested him to add it now. He started yelling at me saying, you guys have no patience and that things take time and are never done so quickly. He then engrossed himself with work. He did ask me to take 3 photocopies of the application though, which I promptly did. He then called a peon and asked when is the mail leaving. Peon said: It had left already for the day and can now go the next day only. So the 2nd day went in vain.

The third day I reached his office before 10AM and was waited for him to arrive. When he arrived and saw me, he was ******* off and asked me to leave. I didn’t and told him that if he doesn’t process, I would need to speak to someone in the head office. He didn’t budge. So I went to see the registrar, there was a long queue there as well. Waiting for my turn, which came after 45 mins and could finally speak to the Registrar. I told him the story so far. He sounded as if he is hearing this for the first time and was surprised, however when I requested him to do something, he called in his Peon and asked him to tell the babu to get the ball rolling. I went along with this Peon to hear him say to babu. Babu was unperturbed. I understood know. It’s all linked.

He took full 3 days to dispatch the paper to one dept. By that time I started understanding the process. When the doc went to another dept (Municipal corporation) I was already there. Since I knew what was needed, as soon as the Babu saw the application, came to me and straight away asked for Rs.500. I negotiated and paid Rs.200. The file then went back again on the 6th day. The previous babu took another 3 days to process the file and sent to Delhi , Lucknow home ministry. The people there were little more considerate and understood my need for urgency. They processed the file within few minutes and sent it back to the Ghaziabad which took one day. On the next day when it reached the original babu he sat on it for another day more without any reason. The next day, when I asked the stamped doc, he shamelessly asked me Rs.5000/- before he could hand over the doc. I was ******** off and now that the docs were right there I started negotiating bribe with him aloud. He looked around if anyone was hearing our conversation. No one was... or rather pretended that they weren’t listening. He came done to Rs.2000, then 1000. I handed a 500 rupee note to him and said get lost. He took the money and started working as if nothing has happened.

Paying off the traffic police:

I had to drop my parents to Airport. My parents had already boarded a private vehicle and I was on my bike with my brother and was following the vehicle. A constable standing next to Interceptor jeep stopped me, checked my documents, and when he came to know all the documents were proper, he said I was over speeding!!! I am sure I haven't crossed 60kmph [permissible speed is 80 kmph]. He told the fine is Rs 300. I didn’t have time to negotiate or to check what my speed was. I asked him "swalpa nodi saar" and he slashed the price to Rs 100. I promptly paid it and went.

Another experience with the traffic police:

This is not about bribe I paid, but what I saw others pay. In this case auto drivers… I was at Cantonment railway station Saturday early morning to receive some relatives. There is a 'pre-paid' auto stand in front of the station where the drivers are supposed to wait. In their eagerness to get a customer they crowd around the exit gate to solicit customers. The police constable on duty takes Rs.10 from each of them so that they have the advantage of the vantage position. One poor guy refused to pay and his number was promptly noted down by the cop. I guess the autowallas have to pay this Rs.10 at several places during the day and the conman man is actually 'paying Rs.10 over meter' to fund the cops. And we blame the petrol hike for increase in fares :)

To obtain a death certificate:

My father was a Government Employee and got expired on 04-10-2007. He had a severe sweating and nausea at around 10:30 P.M and we rushed him to hospital, which is around 0.5 km. from our house but with our bad luck, we lost him before we got him to the doctor.

Doctor tried Emergency procedures, (although he confirmed on first sight that we lost him), CPR and others and does justice to his duty.

He also had given a writing, that my father was brought dead to hospital.

Now the story started. When we lose a family member, we don’t see and think for logistics. I thought the same and we finished the funeral.

After about a week I went to local municipality for his death certificate. The municipal officials never accepted the certificate by the doctors on hospital letterhead, but only on their prescribed format.

When I went back to **********, they escaped saying that he was never admitted, (I still have the bills of the emergency injection, and casualty fees receipt, etc., with me) therefore we can’t sign it.

At last, the RMO of that hospital took a BRIBE of 1500 and signed on the format. That too after mentally torturing in many ways.

To get a driving licence:

On 28 Nov 2010 at Koramangala (Bangalore) I went to get Driving license but I tried 4 times but they rejected me… at the time one fellow came to me and asked 1500rs for licence. Finally I gave 1450Rs and I got my licence. This is the process going on nowadays.

Another experience:

I have paid 1000 rupees to get the Driving license in RTO Office Gudur, Nellore (d.t).-Dt::06-08-2004. I don’t know how to drive a car but I am having LMV license.

To get paid a scholarship:

We received a scholarship and went to the computer science department to get the amount. The actual amount was 5000, but the clerk gave us Rs4800. He said we will get good jobs and earn a lot in our career. So this is the only time he can ask us money.

To get water supply:

Ward no-7 jurisdiction of Byatarayanpura on Bangalore International Airport Road . Here the problem is with water. The person who leaves water takes 10 bucks a day to get water for 1 hour. If we don't pay we won't even get a drop of water for 3 days.

For electricity supply:

We had a nice house warming ceremony but before that we had to feed a big hungry mouth to have a smooth function at our house. The electricity supply is a major issue on the day and the guy who came for inspection/verification of the name change from the previous owner to our name was smiling all the time saying "It’s not a big problem sir...we just have some small formalities." The small formalities include signing the documents and paying 5K cash and mind you this is just for him. At the end we spent close to 10k for all the hungry mouths to see lights in our house.

To file a police complaint:

I was working at a hotel in Koramangala at around 10 pm when a drunk ex-employee came rushing into the hotel shouting and screaming and assaulting the security, the other employees and disturbing the guests. Long story short when we called the police on what is supposed to be an emergency number, they came to the hotel but refused to step in of we didn’t give them money. I explained to the man that I was on duty and didn’t have any but to no avail. Finally, someone gave them Rs1000 and they intervened. What reliable protection indeed!

Illustrations by Paul Fernandes from the I Paid A Bribe Website.


Elizabeth P. aka "Campobello" said...

This is absolutely incredible--it reads like some crazy surrealistic comedy until you realize it's no joke but the reality for many, many people. I'd heard of the I Paid a Bribe website--I certainly hope it helps combat the problem. Have you ever paid a bribe, Isabel?

Great post!

Machu said...

The Nehru Feudal family that has been in power for 85% of the time since India's independence has built this enormous system where by they can bleed the population of its meager earnings.

Isabel said...

I've never paid a bribe but I have been in situations where the person I was dealing with may have been trying to hint at this. I can play the dumb foreigner who doesn't pick up the signals!

Anonymous said...

Just got married to an Indian national... we experienced some of what you are detailing here from the Indian side. And extra-pain from the French side (I sometimes wished the French bureaucrats would just take a bribe and let us be. Ooops definitely not politically correct ! lol)

Anonymous said...

Well, it all depends. I was born and raised in India and neither I nor my parents have ever, ever paid a bribe for anything, nor has a bribe ever been demanded from us. The problem is that people are greedy and impatient. They want everything done right now, this minute and try to grease the wheels with bribes. You can't do that and then complain about the culture of bribes. The same people who want a passport done in two weeks in India with bribes because "Oh God! It takes forever otherwise" will happily wait six-eight weeks for their US passport to come through. I live in the US now and have never had to pay a bribe to any Indian Embassy employee to expedite my case. Just send in my stuff via mail and a self-addressed envelope and it always comes back, stamped and completed. No standing in line, no begging, no pleading, nothing.

Also, people who give bribes can be really stupid and uninformed. A lot of the services that they "pay" for, are free. For example, people pay bribes to be recruited into the police. They don't realize that the touts just go and pretend to be socializing with the recruitment officer. Then, of the five people the tout brings, two may get in on merit and they think their "bribe" worked. Stupid! People who give bribes are just as much to blame as people who take them.


Thea said...

I already heard from many examples, that bribe isn't just speed money any longer, as it was for many years, but money which makes things possible at all... it is a new concerning development, but maybe it will finally wake up the people, so that they start doing something against... :)

Barns said...

Isabel, I just want to let you know that you're one of my favourite bloggers - every new post is an absolute pleasure, and I get excited whenever the title is bolded in my Google Reader. I really hope you continue posting words & photographs on a somewhat regular basis.

Also, I'd love to interview you for my site - I'm doing a series of blogger interviews. I did one with Sharell of Diary of a White Indian Housewife which you may have seen: http://jdanspsawyksui.wordpress.com/2010/10/04/sharell-cook-white-indian-housewife-interview/

Feel free to contact me via my blog if you're interested...

amit said...

hi there,

I am planning to move from US to India in the next one year. Your blog is kind of a educational reader for me. Please keep updating it.

Peter said...

In Canada, it is referred to as a service fee, and government officials are adding more and more of them.