Citizens' Issues
Of onions and the real anti-graft war

There is a way to fight corruption. We must begin by saying, “We will not pay bribes to get what is rightfully ours”. We must say: “We are prepared to wait till the bribe-taker gets tired of waiting for us to come up with the bribes”. It will be a long, hard haul in which every individual can and must participate

When the price of onions rose to an extortionate hundred rupees a kilo, some social activists went around advising people not to eat onions. If everybody stopped buying onions, demand would plummet and the racketeers who had jacked up the prices would be left with mountains of unsalable onions. They would be forced to cut the price to a reasonable level.

The idea was based on simple economic logic. But it also illustrates the power that lies in the hands of you, me and the man in the street-people's power, which is the strongest weapon in the battle against injustice, extortion, racketeering, political chicanery and that leviathan called corruption in India.

A septuagenarian Gandhian, with a late-awakening conscience, and a cross-dressing yoga teacher, have, in recent months, dominated the headlines, challenging as they have done the government's sincerity in cracking down on corruption. People like Anna Hazare and yogi Ramdev are useful in their own way. They occasionally turn the spotlight on the government and there is a public outcry, this time over the Lokpal Bill.

One need not be a cynic to say that Anna Hazare's efforts will not get results. We have the example of the Bofors scandal and investigation which, to quote Shakespeare's Macbeth, was "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing".

To justify such a conclusion, one has to understand the nature of the beast. Corruption is the genus which has two main species.

The first, and bigger in terms of the money involved, is the bribe paid in order to obtain something to which a person is not legally entitled. Examples include the 2G spectrum scandal, the Harshad Mehta scam, Bofors, Narasimha Rao's bribery of JMM members of the Lok Sabha to get them to vote for the government. Only the rich and the powerful have the necessity and means to indulge in this species of corruption.

All of us are the victims of the second species of corruption which is graft paid to obtain something to which one is legally entitled.

Bribes paid to get a college or even a school seat; speed-money that we pay to hasten the process of renewing a driving licence and issuing a passport; the elbow-grease that smoothens the issue of a ration card, any type of permit and, horribly enough, even a death certificate; the fact bribes have to be paid to get anything from any bureaucrat and civil servant, from the panchayat office to central ministries in New Delhi-all are bribes paid to get things to which we are legally entitled.

Corruption touches every aspect of an Indian's life; it is like the mosquitoes; lorries belching lung-destroying exhaust on every road; the rains that do not come and the rains that flood thousands of acres; the flies that hover in their thousands over exposed food at roadside eateries-it is all-pervasive, encompasses all human activity in India and appears to be indestructible.

Will the war against graft ever begin? Are we totally helpless? It would seem so. But…

Hindu mythology has the concept of "shaapavimochanam". It means that every curse has an escape clause. We Indians are enduring the incredibly burdensome curse of corruption. Is there an escape clause?

There is, and it is the use of people's power. If we can bring down the price of onions by simply saying "No, we won't buy at this price", we can defeat the corrupt vampires sucking the nation's blood. But a warning. It will involve very patient, hard work over decades, maybe even half a century. All of us can and must participate. We begin by attempting to "terminate with extreme prejudice" (as the CIA puts it) the second species of corruption.

We begin by saying, "No, we will not pay bribes to get what is rightfully ours". We must say: "We are prepared to wait till the bribe-taker gets tired of waiting for us to come up with the bribes". It will be a long, hard haul in which every individual action will help.

The war against the first species of corruption requires an army of dedicated experts-financial experts, chartered accountants, cost accountants, lawyers, judges, trained investigators from the police and security services. They have to accept that their main goal in life is to expose and punish corruption wherever it is found.

They could begin, for instance, with hunting for over-invoicing and under-invoicing in import and export transactions where the biggest leakages of foreign exchange take place, with the connivance of government agencies. Later, they could turn their microscopes on every transaction into which every government, central and state, enters. (The Raja Chelliah committee report on black money in India, published in 1986, is a good introduction to the mechanics of black money and corruption).

Somebody has to start a movement to initiate the war against both species of corruption. Perhaps it could be called the "People's coalition against corruption".

'Will you start the movement', do you ask? No way. I am a journalist. I will sit back and give advice.

(R Vijayraghavan has been a professional journalist for more than four decades, specialising in finance, business and politics. He conceived and helped to launch Business Line, the financial daily of The Hindu group. He can be contacted at [email protected].)




5 years ago

At least for the matters which are not urgent we can wait upon.
I had a matter of passport clearance which took me one and a half years to get issued for my daughter and after some RTI applications and registration in public grievance cell, same could be redressed. I didn't pay any visit or bribe.

nagesh kini

5 years ago

I entirely support William Gamble's idea of publishing on Websites.
Why not pass on the suggestion to Ipaidbribe?


5 years ago

In the Indian reality the government has its fat fingers in every conceivable pie thanks to the legacy of India's faux Socialism which is based on the premise that government (and its "servants") can do no wrong, while the public and especially the private sector are basically criminal, who have to be controlled with all possible rules and regulations. This has given so much discretionary power to the bureaucrat - especially the lowest rung babu that he can get away with all kinds of objections and delays, WITHOUT any fear of punishment or penalties. In fact, govt will commit public resources to defend his action, in case it is challenged. The first step towards easing the grip of corruption would be to make the babus really accountable with performance criteria and with the possibility of being fired for non performance, at all levels. User Public's formal evaluation of service received can be one important criterion.

William Gamble

5 years ago

Sorry it won't work. The problem is that the government and bureaucrats have a monopoly. Since they are the only ones that provide the service, they can wait longer than you can.

I have a better idea. Start a web site and publish anonymous tips about the cost of a bribe for a specific service. If for example it costs more to get a driver's license in Mumbai than say Pune, people might drive to Pune to get their licenses. This would have numerous effects. First, it would embarrass the authorities in Mumbai. Second, it would specifically point out a bribe taker or at least the department, (anonymity would depend on liable laws). Third, it would give Mumbai bribe taker an incentive to drive down their prices. If you could name names there would be an even higher disincentive.

It is not about moral authority. Getting rid of corruption is all about transparency and I agree, it is about economics.


5 years ago

are you a naive leftist?
"We are prepared to wait till the bribe-taker gets tired of waiting for us to come up with the bribes".
dont you understand opportunity costs and the time value of money?. bribes dont exist in isolation.they exist because the bribee is a monopolist.he has power over you.have you needed to bribe the colgate company? but,i am sure in the 80s you may have bribed MTNL fellows. see the difference?\think beyond the mindless chatter on tv.oops are part of that chatter

nagesh kini

5 years ago

My response to Dilip and Biswas.
One didn't pay bribe, he paid only 'faciltation money to expedite' his passport issuance. Making a cost-benefit analysis - the charges paid to to 'passport agent' was like the payments Tata Telcom, Reliance and others to Niira Radia - only it was designated "Professional Charges for Corporate Lobbyist" all for valuable(?) Services Rendered. The entire amount Tax deductible too as business as normal business expenditure of the payer! No hang ups. No CBI Charge sheet.

Dillip Mohanty

5 years ago

I find this argument quite flawed and outdated when you say - "No, we will not pay bribes to get what is rightfully ours". We must say: "We are prepared to wait till the bribe-taker gets tired of waiting for us to come up with the bribes".

I will give you my example. My passport renewal was delayed unnecessarily without any valid reason. In weeks time I had to apply for visa for a business trip. So should I have waited for the passport authority to take their own sweet time to issue my passport when they would have thought that this fellow is in no mood to bribe us to get his passport. By doing thus I would have lost the business trip. And these trips are important in one's career. So finally a middleman arranged the passport by greasing the palm of the passport authority.

So should we encourage the behavior of let’s not pay bribe and harass the bribe seeker or let’s put a system where anyone demands or take bribe can be prosecuted? By your argument, by not paying bribe you harm your career or many economic prospects in your life. But finally what happens to the person who harasses you? Is his salary going to be less?

All the corruption at policy making level (2G, CWG, KG) has nothing to do with you or me taking or giving bribe. Corruption has many layers. So it has to be dealt with strong system and law. We can only deter corruption by putting people behind bar. Not giving or taking bribe is not the solution.

Biswa Nayak

5 years ago

Absolutely right. I applied for my passport, and i knew in my mind, i will not give a cent as bribe or speed-money. It took me around 22 months to get, but i did get my passport without paying any bribe. I had actually thought, it would take 3-5 yrs! Similarly, for getting my building paln approved, i was turned down many times by the authority. I conformed to all their demands, but still they delayed, for bribes. I didnt oblige. I went to grievance cell of collector of district, i went to grievance cell of secretary of housing dept. Finally after 15 months, they dutifully passed my building plan. It was a victory for me. I didnt pay a single bribe. I urge each one of us to be more resilient, patient and sure that we would not pay bribe for something which is our right.



In Reply to Biswa Nayak 5 years ago

congratulations on your patience.but it merely demonstrates that you didnt value your time and money that much. ie a 22 month delay was no big deal for you.not everyone is as rich as you.people have some sense of worth for their time(and money).

nagesh kini

5 years ago

Why not give onions as bribes?
At least they bring tears in the eyes.
At the height of the price rise it was said it was far cheaper to get onions from London.
We threw out those imported from Pakistan.
In Delhi one Party lost because of onions.
Sharad Pawar says onions, pototoes and tomatoes are not on the platter of the Agri. Minister but only Sugar cane with a lot of malai, next only to ICC!

Learning to choose the right mutual fund scheme

A report on the 69th free seminar conducted by Moneylife Foundation in the past 14 months

Moneylife Foundation trustee, Debashis Basu today cautioned investors that they should study mutual funds properly before deciding to invest in any of them. Mr Basu said there were various pros and cons for these schemes and he dwelt on these aspects during an hour-long presentation at a workshop on "How to choose the right mutual fund scheme" at the Moneylife Knowledge Centre on Tuesday.

Mr Basu began by giving the participants an overview on mutual funds, explaining the different types of schemes available, like equity funds, ELSS (equity linked saving schemes), bond funds, liquid funds and SIP (systematic investment plan). He explained about the benefits and the risks associated with each of these plans and investment strategies.

ELSS is an investment option that is usually picked by investors for tax benefits in the last quarter of the financial year. In fact investors should invest in ELSS for the entire year to get its investment benefits too, Mr Basu pointed out.

While there are hundreds of bond funds, "bond funds are not for average savers", he said. They often give lower returns than bank fixed deposits (FDs) and have costs and volatility attached to them. Bonds usually come with the notion that they are risk free. But in fact they are not. Bonds come with an interest rate risk, whereby if the interest rate rises, the bond prices fall. No one can judge the rise and fall of interest rates, hence investing in bonds could be considered as speculative. Only those who have a thorough understanding of bonds should invest in these funds, else bank FDs would be better as there is no cost attached to it.

Hybrid funds, which invest certain portion of the portfolio in equity, debt and gold ETFs (exchange traded funds) are to be avoided too, as the performance of the fund is left to the mercy of the asset class in question and the fund manager's market-timing ability. These funds used to invest mostly in equity and debt and now they have added gold to the list. Mr Basu compared these funds to a ready cup of tea. But investors with some financial knowledge should do their own allocation and not opt for these funds.

SIPs (systematic investment plans) though a good option, are flawed if they are not adjusted for the growth option. Investors usually don't consider inflation and invest the same amount over the years. In fact, the value of money falls over the years, therefore, investors should incrementally increase their investment amount.

Mr Basu introduced the idea of value averaging, a better option compared to SIP. It is a strategy through which investors should buy more when the NAV is less and vice-versa, thus increasing returns.

Equity schemes help create long-term wealth. But care should be taken while choosing the right scheme, as less than half of the schemes outperform the benchmark and the difference between the best-performing fund and the worst is huge, Mr Basu pointed out.

On how to choose the best equity scheme, ideally returns over a five-year rolling period should be considered to analyse the performance of a fund. Moneylife regularly puts out such analysis. There are usually just four-five fund houses that register consistently good performance. A portfolio which is diversified across all sectors should be chosen; therefore sector funds should be avoided. Investors should avoid NFOs (new fund offerings) and funds with fancy names.

Investors, who don't have any experience about the markets and don't want to make any effort either, can still make money from the market through index funds.

This programme, hosted by Moneylife Foundation, is the latest in a series of programmes on real estate, credit cards, wills & nominations and a range of related subjects. This is the 69th such seminar conducted by Moneylife Foundation since March 2010. The programmes have been conducted at the Moneylife Knowledge Centre in Dadar, in central Mumbai, and in various cities across the country are free. Moneylife Foundation has more than 5,700 members. Membership is free. To register as a member click here.


PM out of govt draft; Lokpal meet ends in disagreement

The key issues on which differences remained even after the ninth and last meeting of the 10-member panel included bringing the prime minister, higher judiciary and acts of MPs inside Parliament within the purview of the Lokpal, the mode of selection and removal of its members

New Delhi: The civil society and the government today failed to arrive at a common draft on the Lokpal Bill over which there were major differences as the official version excluded the Prime Minister from its purview, reports PTI.

Maintaining that they "agreed to disagree", HRD minister Kapil Sibal told reporters after an hour-long meeting that differences could not be resolved on around eight key issues.

A draft bill, which could be a combination of views of both the sides or separate, will be taken up by the Union Cabinet before introduction in Parliament during the Monsoon session.

The key issues on which differences remained even after the ninth and last meeting of the 10-member panel included bringing the prime minister, higher judiciary and acts of MPs inside Parliament within the purview of the Lokpal, the mode of selection and removal of its members.

The government draft which was unveiled at the meeting excludes the prime minister, said activist Arvind Kejriwal.

Expressing 'deep disappointment' over the government draft, the Anna Hazare team said the model proposed by it was just a 'symbolic attempt' to install an authority in the name of Lokpal rather than a 'comprehensive, independent, empowered' institution to fight corruption.

"They gave their draft, we gave our draft and there was a short discussion...on important issues there was no agreement.

These are six issues (on which views have been sought from political parties) and one or two more issues," Mr Sibal told reporters after an hour-long meeting.

"We agreed to disagree," he said adding, the differences related to changing the existing system of governance.

"There are two-three days. If they (Hazare team) wish to give comments on our drafts, they can do so...we hope the differences are resolved," Mr Sibal said.

Both the drafts will be circulated among political parties in a meeting next month before being taken up by the Cabinet, he said.

The HRD minister, who was one of the five ministers in the joint committee, insisted that the government would bring a 'strong' anti-corruption bill as 'we had promised'.

Mr Hazare aides Prshant Bhushan and Mr Kejriwal said the government draft made it clear that the ruling party will have control over the Lokpal as five of the seven political members of the selection committee will be from the party in power.

"I must say I am deeply disappointed by the model of Lokpal that the government has proposed," Mr Bhushan said.

Criticising the government, Mr Kejriwal said that the earlier draft had at least proposed to bring the PM in the purview of Lokpal but the present one does not have this provision.

However, Mr Bhushan said "some gains" have been made in the long exercise.


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