Over these many decades in India, corruption has set in, and firmly, in most activities in the country. The progress has been gradual—first hardly noticed; then reluctantly accepted; and still later, fully accepted, and just short of being legitimised!
Many years ago, I started a small manufacturing unit with a factory in Hyderabad. Over time, I found that my blood pressure went up considerably when I saw someone come to the reception area—generally dressed in white with a cloth bag in hand. It had to be one of the 'inspectors' on his rounds. They did the rounds and then expected or accepted a token parting gift. It was protection money.
On one occasion when I was not there, the factory manager refused to pay a ‘more than normal’ amount demanded (saying he would have to check with me first—and I was out of town). So the inspector issued an order to seal the factory on the flimsy excuse that the production area was not completely insulated against contagion.
We had to go to court to file a plea to reopen the factory. The stocks in godown were blocked and the production staff had no work for three weeks! The judge took up the case, summarily passed an order to pay a fine, and reopen the factory. I agreed.
The matter was over—or so I thought.
As I was walking out, down the corridor, the government lawyer came rushing towards me. “Sir, Sir—you have forgotten to look after me.”
I was surprised. “How?”
“I did not fight the case. You got off lightly. You may like to compensate me with some amount?” he replied.
"How much?" I asked. He told me. I said OK—and pulled out my purse.
As I was paying him, he added, “And you will have to give me a similar amount for the judge. He also cooperated very nicely!”
I had to use all my willpower not to show my shock at this whole operation. I settled for half the additional amount. Yes. The government lawyer had shown a reason for such a fee. And also a reason for remunerating the judge.
It was not corruption. It was charged for services rendered.
I could not go through such traumas for very long. After four years, I sold the company to someone better suited to manage an enterprise in such an environment!
It is common knowledge that policemen on duty in Mumbai city, are often ‘on the take’.
There has been enough said in the media about policeman Sachin Vaze, and commissioner Parambir Singh—which are indicators of corruption in the police force.
Most of the time, the culture starts at the top, and percolates right through the organisation. But can you blame the poor policeman who takes Rs199 from you for speeding or ignoring the red light?
After all, they are so poorly paid and have to work so hard. Look at the police quarters, which are a replica of slums next door. It is a far cry from Singapore, Muscat, or London, where policemen are well paid. Police corruption will, therefore, be justified. They need to make ends meet!
Many years ago, I had the good fortune to be appointed on the three-man Administrative Reforms Commission of a state government. In one of the major towns where my colleague and I were visiting, the collector threw a very nice dinner party for us at his home and invited other government officials and important local citizens.
The dinner was excellent – excellent quality and too much of it. I complimented the collector and his wife. And knowing the quantum of allowance to spend on such occasions, I quietly directly asked the collector how he could afford it.
He confessed that this was all supplied (against request) by various restaurants in town. “You know, one cannot manage now without such support,” he told me.
My predecessor in this job, 60 years ago, could afford to send three children to high-class boarding schools in the hills. I now find it difficult to send just one child to the local school as a day scholar. So how does one manage? Another good justification for supposedly limited corruption at the highest level!!
Is there a way back to an ethical framework? Or is it too late? Is it the first phase of cancer where the remedy cannot be a remedy anymore?
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India (FIMC). He was a corporate executive for 14 years and pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across the globe in four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books; a business columnist; visiting professor on marketing in the US, Europe and Asia. His latest books are "5 Gs of family Business" with Dr Mita Dixit and "Marketing in a Digital/ Data World" with Brian Almeida. He now spends most of the time in NGO work.)