Don't refuse bribes but catch bribe-takers with their pants down: Punjab CM's grandstanding on corruption

S MurlidharanUpdated: Monday, April 04, 2022, 05:41 PM IST
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Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann seems to be caught in a time warp besides investing everyone with the same gadget savviness. | -

The newly-elected Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann these days appears regularly on national channels making a fervent appeal to Punjab citizens not to refuse bribes to babus but catch them in the act on their cell cameras and WhatsApp the video or audio recording as the case may be to 9501200200. Action, he says, would be immediately taken.

Not an original idea

The brainwave isn’t original though. When AAP government was sworn in for the first time in 2015 in Delhi, CM Kejriwal made a similar exhortation to Delhiites with a smug and knowing smile.

There is no legal validity of a sting operation unless the courts deem so. The legality of sting operations varies from case to case. None of the courts in India has laid down any regulations concerning the admissibility of sting operations as evidence in a court of law . But there is no bar either admittedly, express or implied, which has given rise to the inference that sting operation is kosher if the motives are laudable. That is to say taking law into one’s own hands to rein in corruption is after all not such a bad thing.

Be that as it may, one must examine the Punjab CM’s exhortation in all its ramifications. First, babus have become wary and circumspect. Under-the-table payments made hush-hush are no longer so actually. Driving licenses, for example, are in great demand. Ergo, instances of officials with itchy palm seeking posting in RTO offices aren’t uncommon.

With online application almost the norm, most of the officials have been using the same faceless system to their advantage by asking applicants to get their applications processed from the private service provider next doors. Bribes are built into his service charges! Accounts are settled at the end of the day!!

Bribe-taking perfected into an art

The truth is bribe-taking has been perfected into an unobtrusive art. Persistent stonewalling by either not acting or by fault-finding yield the same results as the brazen demand for the here-and-now bribes with considerably reduced risks of being caught.

The Punjab CM seems to be caught in a time warp besides investing everyone with the same gadget savviness. It is not for everyone to whip up her cell and shoot or record the incident in a jiffy. At any rate, the official now on guard will not be so brazen in his demands and utterances. Peons and attendants who are an integral part of the spoils system whisper wisdom sotto voce into the ears of the public thronging such offices. Driving schools have been proliferating across the nation both to impart driving skills and to obviate the embarrassment of paying bribes to the licensing authorities.

Isn’t it an exercise in grandstanding?

In the event, the Punjab CM’s exhortation seems to be nothing but an exercise in grandstanding -- impression gets fortified when one sees it on national channels and not restricted to the local Punjab media as it should be. What raises one’s eyebrows a little further is the sub-text---not to refuse bribes. Is he suggesting that you pay with your right hand and record the event with your left? Payment of bribes is not kosher. In fact, it is as much a crime as receiving it.

Make clear laws on sting operations

It is high time we made clear laws on stinging and its variant entrapment. The ubiquitous CCTV cameras in public places often is a sufficient deterrent in offices servicing the public though intrepid officers have been showing increasing proclivity to damage them or blackening them to prevent recording of the tell-tale sordid events. To be sure, spycams are registering brisk sales but they are used more for settling private scores rather than as a tool of the citizenry. Vigilant citizenry is commendable but that should not be an excuse for state passivity or buck-passing.

While corruption at the public level is the major irritant for the masses, corruption at high places is what is corroding the moral character of our governance. What needs to be addressed with greater vigor and earnestness are kickbacks on government purchases, political donations for tweaking government policies in favor of the donor and so forth. But Mann like is mentor Kejriwal seems to have read the public pulse correctly----don’t talk about obtuse things; talk about the mundane aspects of daily life!

Corruption can be tamed by mandating complete faceless online processing of applications with instant access to appellate officers in case junior officials at desks continue to stonewall or dilly-dally. Women at desk are perceived to be less susceptible to the gnawing malady of itchy palms. They should be made to man such sensitive counters with frequent and sudden transfers from desk to desk preventing digging in and collusion.

What about freebies promised at state expenses?

By the way, doesn’t worming into the hearts of voters through blandishments at state expense like free supply or water and electricity amount to bribery at the party and the macro level? AAP rationalizes its freebies by equating them with welfarism without batting an eyelid. In Tamil Nadu there have been a large number of instances of unleashing of mob fury at being left out of the spoils---free mixy, grinder and television set. Political parties must first set their own houses in order before pontificating on moral issues to lesser mortals. Practice what you preach is an adage practiced alas more in breach!

(The writer is a veteran columnist and tweets @smurlidharan. Views are personal)

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