Corruption is pervasive. We see on the news here about American politicians being sent to prison for corruption, and people here think this is one of the strengths of America. They assume there will be corruption, but they are amazed that anyone actually has to pay a penalty for it.
One example is Laloo Prasad, a politician who was the Chief Minister for the state called Bihar, and who was notorious for corruption that he made little or no attempt to hide. He had squandered the state’s money to the extent that the state was virtually bankrupt and was experiencing none of the investment and development that most states in India have been enjoying. After 14 years as Chief Minister, he was finally voted out of office during the time we have been here. Our landlady and her daughter were ecstatic and could hardly believe that it had come true, that some politician had been voted out for his actions. There were also caste overlays to this story. Prasad is from what are known here as the Backward and Scheduled Castes, so he spread some of the money around to other lower caste people, while using a lot of it to pay for votes. Most of it went to his immediate family. So, he was voted out, but is he in jail? No, he has now become the Chief Minister of Railroads. The railroads, the military, the civil servants and some other government sectors have their own schools, their own medical providers, their own vacation resorts, their own restaurants, and a pension system. None of these things, except the schools, are provided to the rest of the public. So now Prasad is running the railroads and he has advertised fare breaks, to try to lure the middle class away from airlines and back to trains. His budget ran a surplus this past six months, which he has publicized greatly. Suspicious thing about that is that the railroad upgrade projects that were supposed to have been scheduled for this year have not received any funding (an easy way to run a surplus in your budget!).
Still ongoing in Delhi is the quandary about what to do about the huge number of buildings that have been built illegally over the last several years since Delhi developed a City Plan, a form of zoning. Literally thousands of buildings have been built or added onto in ways that don’t comply with this plan. Yet each project has received its building permit from the city office of Engineers. The high Court decreed that the illegal buildings would have to be demolished, and several have been. The people whose neighborhoods have been encroached by illegal stores are happy, but the people who paid their bribes and got their permits are not happy. None of the Engineers have been punished. None of the politicians who are among the people who have built these illegal buildings have been punished, nor have their buildings been torn down. But there does seem to be some political and social will to find a solution that makes sense, so we will wonder how this one plays out in the next six months.
I think that because corruption is so widespread, there is a general ignoring of laws. People don’t stop for red lights after dark. In the day, if the traffic clears before the light turns green, at least half of the drivers start moving. Very frequently people’s electrical service is actually bootlegged from some neighbor. When the power goes out, which it does fairly often, people use that time to wire a new line into the neighbor’s line. No official data exist on how many people die of electrocution during this maneuver.
We ourselves have been party to this level of corruption. The top photo is from our trip to Kerala in January. We had a fantastic meal right at the water’s edge. We asked for beer, and were told that he couldn’t bring us a bottle of beer but he could bring us beer. We said “sure”, and I’m picturing it arriving in some old German beer bucket. But no, it arrived in coffee cups. When I said I liked the “coffee”, he said no it wasn’t coffee it was “tea, special tea”. When we asked for another beer it arrived in a teapot. Around this time, even though we are numb as hakes, we caught on that this place does not have a liquor license. Hmmm.
Second photo is more serious. On our drive back to Delhi, we were pulled over by police in an unmarked jeep. They marched the driver and his folder of car paperwork over to the jeep, about 100 feet away. At first they just made him stand there a long time. We were still in the car and watching this caper. After a while I saw the policeman grab the driver by the arm and start to drag him to the back of the jeep. He let go for a second, and when the driver was at the back of the jeep, the policeman gave him a real shove, that almost knocked him over. At that point Dave got out of our car and walked over behind the jeep and just stood there. Suddenly the paperwork reappeared, was more or less thrown at the driver, and the jeep pulled out and roared down the road. So I think we saw a shakedown; the driver was supposed to pay off the police. Pretty uncomfortable; driver didn’t want to talk about it much. Dave asked him if it was what it looked like, and he said yes he thought that’s what was going on. End of discussion. He looked pretty upset.
So I don’t know which is more disturbing, the big illegalities, or the every day garbage that ordinary people have to go through.