Baksheesh busting

To fight bribery, an Indian economist suggests targeting the bribe-takers.

(Photo: Rolf Bruderer/Corbis)

ndia’s Prevention of Corruption Act has been in force since 1988, if “force” is the right word. Though a kickback scandal toppled Rajiv Gandhi’s government the next year, corruption remains endemic in the world’s largest democracy. Last year’s wildly over-budget Commonwealth Games are being probed for graft, and the country’s telecom industry may yet be. Meanwhile, nearly a third of the members of India’s main house of parliament are facing charges or inquiries.

Because corruption suffuses the country’s day-to-day workings as well—citizens are forced into small baksheesh bribes to grease the wheels of the bureaucracy—a recent paper by the Indian Ministry of Finance’s chief economic advisor, Kaushik Basu, has understandably earned attention. Basu proposes that those forced to pay “harassment bribes”—forking over extra rupees just to get civil servants to provide services—should no longer be punished if caught. Where both bribe-giver and -taker are now fined equally under the law, Basu suggests the person forced to pay the bribe be absolved of guilt, that the bribed official pay the fine for both parties, and that the bribe be returned to the victim. Basu hopes the policy, if adopted, will deter officials from accepting kickbacks, and mark a step toward a less corrupt India.