Good Corruption - Bad Corruption

The Delhi Government has launched an anti-corruption helpline, number 1031 where anybody can file a complaint against a corrupt government official. Good, a very progressive step by the Government to reign in one of the most widespread rots in India.

But, there was another news article, which I shall discuss later, which made me sit up and think…is corruption limited to government servants only?

In the eighties, the USSR invaded Afghanistan and established a communist government under President Najibullah. In the fight against the communist regime and the Soviet Union, the US and its allies raised rebel forces called Mujahideens. They were the “good terrorists” supporting the US cause, but when the same Mujahideens transformed into Al-Qaida under Osama-bin-Laden they became the “bad terrorists” because they were now opposing the US. Borrowing a simile from here, can there be a “good corruption” and “bad corruption”, in the same way as “good terrorist” and “ bad terrorist”?

By good corruption, I mean corruption that monetarily benefits the poor and marginalised and which is supported by the government and bad corruption is corruption that monetarily benefits people in influential positions.

Have I succeeded in creating enough confusion? Let me continue.

Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy defines Business Ethics as the applied ethics discipline that addresses the moral features of commercial activity. There is a great amount of hullabaloo in India when airlines suddenly increase spot prices based on supply and demand during summer holidays or when an unfortunate rival airline terminates its services. The practice is considered unethical and regulators come into action putting a cap on the maximum price that the airline can charge. Not only this, the media does not shy away from crying itself hoarse if a passenger is denied boarding for any reason. So that means, if someone is in the business of providing transport services, it is unethical and incorrect for the service provider to charge exorbitant rates or deny the transport service to a passenger.

In such cases, the government moves in stating well being of public and action is taken against the erring airline. Hence, I assume that overcharging passengers or refusing to ferry them is a corrupt practice and needs to be controlled. Legal action needs to be taken against such corrupt practices. This would fall under the “bad corruption” as it benefits the airline companies.

Now let’s shift the whole scenario from the elite, rich aeroplane flying passenger to the hapless daily commuter on his/ her way to office. The Aam Admi (common man) commuter for whom the Delhi Government has so much of declared empathy. This commuter approaches an individual providing transport services, the auto rickshaw or taxi driver. The driver, as is common in Delhi, would on most occasions either refuse the fare to the passenger or charge him/ her exorbitantly. Taking a fare by the meter is a rarity in Delhi and you would usually pay more than the official fare, the multiple being decided by one’s negotiating capability. 

Is this a corrupt practice? Going by the definition and airline example, yes. Should the government support it, logically no.

As succour to the harried commuter, earlier governments had issued an order under traffic police rule 66192 that in such a case, if reported to traffic police, the police could intervene on the side of the commuter and force the offending auto rickshaw or taxi driver to obey the law. In extreme cases, the traffic police could impound the offending driver’s vehicle.

The auto rickshaw and taxi drivers were obviously against the impounding because that meant they had to go to court to pay the fine and get the vehicle released. This also meant a loss of livelihood till such time as the vehicle was in police custody. As a result they were pressurising the Delhi government to withdraw this order. Today, the Delhi government has withdrawn this order despite the objections raised by traffic police.

The utilitarian theory of ethics states that best decisions are those which maximise the greatest good for the largest number of people. In this case the largest number of people are the commuters, hence their welfare should be upmost in the mind of the government while taking any decision. And anyway, if the auto rickshaw or taxi driver was following the law and not refusing fare, he could easily carry out his business, though earning lesser money.

An order, which benefitted the Aam Admi has been revoked in order to placate a major vote bank - which is indulging in unlawful activity - of the party in power . Is this practice a corrupt practice, I think yes. Can we register a complaint at 1031…your guess.

Cdr Rajesh Sinha (Retd)'s profile on LinkedIn