Corruption is not a new phenomenon. In one form or another it has existed over the centuries. Ancient India, a land of saints and sages, was believed to have high moral standards but it was not wholly free from corrupt practices.
Much stress was laid on purity of life, but corrupt people flourished nevertheless. An irrefutable proof of this assumption is the specific mention by Chankya, the famous author of 'Arthashastra', of 40 ways of embezzling government property. Conspiracy, graft and bribery along with flattery, diplomacy etc, also existed in Mugal times. The East Indian Company rule and the regime of the 'White Sahibs' were not know for untainted conduct either. There were many subtle ways of pleasing the high ups, through their Mem Sahibs and attendants.
But there is no doubt that the opportunities for plan greasing and offering, extorting and seeking bribes are now greater than before. With the growth of industry; expansion of the public sector, the establishment of the system of quotas, licenses, permits and other concessions, the number of bribe givers and bribe takers has reached record levels. Democracy and socialism have brought immense benefits to humanity, but these have also brought in many evils, one of these being corruption. At one tine people asserted that a polity in which the canker of corruption spreads will not last long. But this has turned out to be erroneous. Democracy and corruption do not seem to be incompatible. The realities of life have virtually compelled people to adopt unethical practices.
Several eminent persons with long experience hold the view that in the existing political system there is endless scope for graft and bribery. The extent and consequence of corruption depends of course on the current set-up and the character of administrative personnel as well as the levels of economic development. For example, the administrative and the political apparatus, from the local municipal level upwards right upto the Union ministry, exercise vast and extensive powers. This inevitable leads to corruption. They also hold that since corruption is an age-old problem and is not only universal, it helps in certain cases to prevent unrest in society. This may sound old, but the fact is that when things come to a dead end, there is much frustration. At least the greasing of palms facilities matters and speeds up things.
When the bureaucracy, notably at lower and middle levels, is sluggish, inactive, largely inefficient and also ineffective, what is the alternative to offering bribes and other incentives to get decisions through ? According to some analyst, corruption in the Third World countries acts as a tool for industrialist and other entrepreneurs to get around the sleepy officialdom and save time which is very precious to them. Anti- corruption boards have been appointed by some of the state government, but the findings and recommendations of these bodies have generally been ignored as a result of the vested interest and influential politicians' pressures. There are innumerable cases of 'give and take' with one group or party obliging the other returning the favors in various ways. The findings of the boards, often headed by eminent persons of unquestionable integrity are bypassed as controversial.
Moralists and cynics often make a pointed reference to the denegation of the people as a whole and the large-scale erosion of values. A resort to bring apparent and immediate fulfillment of the objective. There has been a substantial fall in the people's personal character too. Gone are the values for which the country was once known and gone also are the high standard of honesty. Nowadays officials of almost all categories accept bribes as a routine. Money offered to them directly or through agents is pocketed as if it is an unobjectionable practice and a due share. When an evil pervades society and has taken deep roots, it is futile to expect it to disappear even in decades. Merely deploring the fall in moral standards, without effective action, hardly helps. There is no doubt that the government machinery in this country is overloaded with responsibilities. It is also obvious that the Government is not suitable machinery for promoting genuine socio-economic development.
Of course, there are Ministers, legislators and other key position holders who are scrupulously honest and value integrity more than petty material gains. But as long as people are willing to offer bribes, directly or indirectly and as long as the needs of families keep on mounting in the social and increasingly competitive race for ostentation there would be temptation to make money on the sly. The soaring prices and the high cost of living compel people to accept bribe. Each corrupt person tries to rationalize his action by saying that others also do it; why shouldn't he enable his family to raise and maintain its standard of living and educate his children in the best of school? Keeping up with Joneses at any cost is a common practice. The magnitude of the bribe or the gift offered naturally varies with the concerned person's status, his moral character, inclination and domestic compulsion.
The general opinion on the inevitability of the evil is that the menace may be checked at the highest levels, where scandals such as those associated with the Bofors, German submarines, pipelines etc., may not be repeated but the petty bribes paid at lower levels will continue. However, it is highly expected that the level of corruption at many levels would be drastically reduced.