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What is Corruption?

By Shobhika Puri | Last Updated: Saturday, January 15, 2011 - 15:02
Shobhika Puri
En Passant

‘Corruption’ is the buzzword these days with a new scam unfolding every now and then. This is one of those few words that have the rare distinction of not requiring an introduction to anybody, not only in India but across the world. It is probably not even taught in schools as a part of ‘dictation’ lessons because this is one word that every child grows up listening about.

Just when we thought one knows enough about the topic, comes a unique comment from BJP president Nitin Gadkari. Recently, he labelled the charges against Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa for land allotment to his relatives, as immoral and not illegal, thereby not being corrupt. Worth exploring further more so because the fate of crores and crores of rupees rests on the delicate shoulders of this ubiquitous phenomenon called ‘corruption’.

It is a no brainer that every illegal act is immoral but the reverse is not necessary. So far so good. Also, every illegal act is corrupt, but is every immoral act also corrupt? Nitin Gadkari says ‘no’ to the latter but, is this correct interpretation?

If for the sake of argument one were to agree with Mr Gadkari’s definition, there would be many people who would be happy, foremost among them those involved in the Radia tapes case. The conversations between journalists and lobbyists can be termed as immoral but, not illegal. Since it would be difficult to prove any direct correlation between the conversations and the Cabinet seat selection, the case cannot be termed as illegal. So, one case is solved! The Radiagate revelations are not an act of corruption.

If the Karnataka land allotment scam in not an act of corruption then how can Adarsh Society scam be? Another case solved.

There may be many more cases that can be solved in a jiffy if one were to buy Nitin Gadkari’s immoral-not-illegal argument. But, would this be correct? Would it not be injustice to the Kargil War heroes and widows to whom the Adarsh Society land belonged? Would it not be injustice to the political system of our country if indeed it is proved that Niira Radia did influence the political decision-making? Would it not be injustice to the public at large that bestows confidence on the people it elects and trusts them with their hard-earned money in the form of taxes?

Thus, it is quite clear that whether ‘immoral or illegal’, or ‘immoral and illegal’, all the recent scams like Commonwealth Games 2010, 2G spectrum allocation, the Radia tapes, Adarsh Society and Karnataka land allotment, are all acts of corruption unless proved otherwise.

The aforementioned scams are obvious acts of corruption but there are many more acts and events that are generally not termed as corrupt; however, they definitely should be.

The entire Winter Session of Parliament ended in a deadlock that cost the exchequer Rs 172 crores! This is the direct loss due to the cost of running the Parliament. If one were to add the worth of decisions not taken due to lack of discussion, then one can easily add a few thousand crores. Financial Bills involving supplementary demands worth Rs 46,000 crores were passed without any debate or discussion. What if this decision was wrong, the chances of which are high given the environment in which the decision was made? It is ironical that in order to probe a scam allegedly involving Rs 1.76 lakh crores, the government and the Opposition are ready to waste an equally enormous amount to achieve nothing!

Time and again nationwide bandhs and strikes are called by one party or the other. Such events also cause a huge loss to the nation as they include productivity loss, plus loss due to destruction of public property, plus inconvenience caused to the common man who ends up paying more for basic products and services, plus encouragement to others to follow suit leading to further losses. There may not be any concrete numbers to attribute to these variables, but it can be safely assumed that these can run into thousands or even lakhs of crores of rupees over a period of time.

Many promises are made during election campaigns most of which are not fulfilled. The common man trusts the judiciary to deliver justice to him but what he gets in return is years of running from one court to another. In times of medical emergency, people who do not have enough funds are turned away by doctors. Taking advantage of the lack of medical knowledge of the patients, doctors many times over charge their patients. Parents trust their little ones to the school authorities who at times punish them so severely that the children get traumatised. Recently, a police woman officer was killed by her colleagues for trying to fulfil her duty. And, the list goes on.

Various dictionaries define the terms ‘corrupt/ corruption/ corrupted’ as ‘open to or involving bribery; morally depraved; unreliable through errors or alterations; dishonest; rotten; unclean; contaminated; to change from good to bad in morals, manners, or actions; to alter from the original or correct form or version’. If one were to go by these definitions then the above-mentioned cases should also be termed as acts of corruption. Perhaps they are bigger acts of corruption because they point to a systemic failure. They not only lead to monetary losses but loss of faith in the system by the public at large.

It is high time we take a re-look at what corruption is, as corruption is like a ball of snow; once set rolling, it is bound to increase. And, in our case the ball of snow is already rolling…

First Published: Saturday, January 15, 2011 - 15:02

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