Why the bribe is easier

CIOL Bureau
New Update

Anna Hazare's goal of getting a strict Jan Lokpal monitor is admirable. Let's put it to the test. How would it be if we all followed the laws? What if someone paid duty honestly at an airport? Utopia for all, right?


Wrong. An honest life can be a pretty miserable one because the regulations themselves, or at least their interpretation and execution, are mala-fide.

Also Read: Hazare's 'freedom struggle' rocks cyberspace

Returning from Hong Kong with an iPhone and sundry items, I needed to pay Rs. 4,000 in duties. I walked into the Red Channel at New Delhi's T3.


When I stopped at the Red Channel, the officer looked at me very strangely. He then asked me not for receipts, but what kind of work I did. Then he shook his head and said that the process of paying the duty was “extremely complicated”, and he waited. The implication was: pay a bribe and walk away.

When I insisted on paying duty, he looked surprised. He then went back in for a discussion with his manager, which ran for a half hour. He then called me to another section of the office and again inquired what work I do, and repeated how complicated the process was. And also that they would take only cash, no credit card (and I did not have the cash).

When I still insisted on paying, he told me to leave my baggage, get a pass, step out, get cash, and come back in. That started a saga: walk out, getting a pass along the way, wondering if my luggage would be safe, going out to the ATM, getting the cash, waiting in line to get back in and finally, getting back to Customs. All in all, it took about two hours, and I was cursing myself for embarking on this experiment, not knowing whether, during this foolishness, my baggage would be intact.


Thankfully, it was. I then had to go to Finance to deposit the funds. At that department, which was scrupulously all-business, I handed over the money, got a receipt and walked back to Customs.

I was allowed to take my luggage and leave.

Lessons Learned: the Hazare way costs more in time, not just in money, even in this simplified microcosm. Sometimes, you do not have the time. You may have perishable goods, or critical medication, or a live pet coming through. Last year, I had to “pay up” for getting my dog, Einstein, through Customs, when we were moving back to India after a long time in the US. All paperwork was in order, but I was told it could take 24 hours to process it — while Einstein remained caged in the holding area, without food or water. I had no option.


In a commercial scenario, goods could have languished for months, ruining any business.

A traffic cop tells you to pay a Rs 1,000 fine for using your mobile: you're willing to pay, but then he says you need to wait a half hour in the sun for the paperwork. The implication is clear. What would you do?

A major enabler of corruption is over-regulation. Unless electronic clearances are ubiquitous, the bill can crash growth. Cutting down over-regulation, as well as the varying interpretation of those regulations by on-ground officials, can help cut down corruption. This is not to say that Hazare is wrong — just that his efforts will be incomplete without a hard look at the regulations themselves — and at those who implement them.


(Srikanth Rajagopalan runs a SAP consultancy out of Gurgaon and the US. You can find him at or