Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Can there be any justification for corruption?

Recently, a bench of two Supreme Court judges observed that there was unbridled corruption all over the government, more so in the income tax, sales tax and excise departments. Of course in jest, it suggested that levels of bribes be fixed for different kinds of work, which in its opinion would obviate the need for haggling. Finally, it said that the government officials should not be blamed for corruption when the prices were rising so much.

I think the judges were absolutely right in condemning corruption which had taken the entire government in its hold but if they meant to convey that the things were any better in the judiciary, many would not agree with them. The human material is the same, be it in the legislature, executive or the judiciary; what decides the level of corruption in different branches of the state is the scope for corruption, degree of transparency and chances of being caught. The same holds true of various departments of the executive. That the three departments named by the judges are extremely corrupt is not a news. There the scope is tremendous and the chances of being caught are negligible because it is a victimless crime, the bribe giver and the corrupt official combine to deny the exchequer, a non-person, its due.

Fixing amounts of bribe for different works is not going to help. Who will guarantee that government officials will not demand more than the standard 'fee'? And if there is going to be an ombudsman to prevent overcharging, why not have him for preventing corruption in the first place?

The judges treaded on dangerous ground when they expressed sympathy for corrupt officials and sought to relate corruption to the rising inflation. What were they trying to do - justify corruption, give it their blessing, endow it with respectability? Corruption, i.e. using public office for private gain, is a crime against the state and against humanity and ought to be universally condemned as such. Apologists for corruption, even if they are in the haloed precincts of a court of justice, should at best be ignored.

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