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India's backstairs economy


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Intersting article found on cbc.ca

source: http://www.cbc.ca/news/viewpoint/vp_copeland/20040810.html

India's Busted...lol :LOL::LOL::LOL::LOL:

India's backstairs economy

CBC News Viewpoint | August 10, 2004 | More from Jeremy Copeland

Your average tourist might miss the corruption in India, but people who live here even briefly soon discover they have to navigate through a well-established system of kickbacks. Indians call it baksheesh, and it can be a tip or a bribe. It's a widespread practice that is an ingrained part of Indian culture.

Still, some stories of corruption manage to surprise even those who have lived in the country for many years. Take this one from last month for example:

A psychiatrist at the Agra mental hospital in northern India was caught in a sting operation accepting a bribe from a man seeking a divorce. In exchange for 10,000 rupees (about $300), Dr. S.K. Gupta gave the man a certificate on the hospital's letterhead declaring his wife insane, even though the doctor had never met her.

What the not-so-good doctor didn't know was that the man offering him a bribe was a journalist who was secretly filming the encounter. On the tape, Dr. Gupta tells the journalist he's prepared to testify in court that his wife is mad. The doctor also says he's helped 10 other men get rid of their wives.

In India, it's easy for a man to secure a divorce if his wife is declared mentally unstable. In such cases the husband can keep the dowry paid by his wife's family. The poor women have no way to fight back against the word of a respected government doctor.

The undercover journalist brought along his hidden video camera when he visited one of the men Dr. Gupta allegedly helped to secure a divorce. The tape shows Rakesh Sharma explaining how he gave Dr. Gupta 5,000 rupees (about $150). In return, the psychiatrist provided a certificate documenting that the man's wife was taking treatment for a schizophrenic form of psychosis and had been under Dr. Gupta's observation for more than two months.

Sharma successfully filed for divorce. Unaware he was being taped, Sharma admitted on camera that there was nothing mentally wrong with his wife. He says he simply wanted the divorce so he could remarry.

Dr. Gupta was on the run from police for two weeks but has turned himself in. The charges are being investigated, but the psychiatrist denies any wrongdoing.

Most cases of corruption aren't so dramatic. A journalist friend of mine who lives in one of Delhi's nicest neighbourhoods has found himself actually paying extra to prevent interruption of his electrical service.

A couple of times a month John's power goes out. In India this is nothing unusual, but on these occasions he can see that the lights are still on in his neighbour's house. A few minutes later there's a knock at the door. Two men ask John if his power has been cut and offer to solve the problem. About 15 minutes later the power comes back and then there's another knock.

"Is everything OK now?" John says yes and slides the men 100 rupees (about $3) for their "trouble." This routine would drive most people in the West crazy, but John looks on the bright side. His predecessor had warned him about these visits and told John he paid the men 150 rupees every time they "fixed" the problem. The way John sees it; he's saving 50 rupees every time it happens.

Corruption in India has actually greatly decreased in the past 15 years. Until the early 1990s, India was trapped in a system that is now known as the Licensing Raj. Bureaucratic barriers were so bad that doing business became a nightmare. Companies required permission from the government for almost everything from getting a new phone line to launching a new product to changing locations.

The civil servants who controlled the granting of these licences expected baksheesh as a reward for doing their jobs. The pace of development in the country became agonizingly slow. It could take years to get a phone line. Big companies based outside of the capital would often hire a person in Delhi to work full-time on smooth-talking and bribing officials.

The government was forced to dismantle the Licensing Raj in the early '90s because the system had helped push India to the verge of bankruptcy. Even today if you go into almost any government office, you'll see signs asking you to report anyone who attempts to extort a bribe.

It's not just lower level civil servants but also many politicians who are rumoured to be on the take. This is hardly surprising, but I was amazed that corruption can even be seen in university student councils.

An Indian friend of mine decided to run for the student council position of social secretary during his second year at Delhi University. Before Jaj entered the campaign, there were several people running for the position, but only one of them seemed to have any chance of winning. That candidate's posters were all over the campus. Jaj enlisted lots of his friends and they put up hundreds of posters.

One night Jaj found out why other candidates ran low-key campaigns. Several men physically assaulted him. They told Jaj to pull out of the campaign or else the next time they wouldn't be so "nice."

Jaj found out the hard way that there's a lot of money to be made from being responsible for organizing the university's social gatherings. Tables, chairs and dishes have to be rented. Security guards and caterers have to be hired. Venues have to be paid for. The social secretary can ask for baksheesh from an outside company in return for giving it a university contract. It's as easy as it is illegal. Jaj decided he didn't want the job.

The above stories are just a small sample of the tales of corruption I've heard and experienced in India. Since the end of the Licensing Raj more foreign companies have started doing business here, but it's still not easy. Many of the books aimed at foreigners working in India have chapters about how to get through red tape and how to deal with situations where officials expect bribes.

India is the second-fastest-growing economy in Asia, behind China, but until the widespread corruption is brought under control, it will fail to realize its full potential. Unfortunately, when so many people stand to gain so much from corruption, it's hard to imagine how this will ever be accomplished.

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