Comment Pieces

Nothing 'Petty' about this corruption

Posted on October 31, 2013

'Grand corruption' is defined by the World Bank, as corruption that involves heads of state, ministers, or other senior government officials and serves the interests of a narrow group of businesspeople and politicians, or criminal elements. 

There is something grand about this. It involves heads of state, there are politicians and there is crime. A potent mix. It also appears have some grand design  behind such a type of corruption.

On the other hand, petty corruption involves the payment of comparatively small amounts of money to “facilitate” routine official transactions, such as customs clearance or the issuing of building permits. For India , one could add payments to traffic cops, for ration cards and most other transactions involving the government.

It sounds terribly petty, and is most likely to be ignored. And it was for a long period of time. Until people woke up to its reach and range.

Grand corruption is what occupies our mindshare, our television anchors and opinion makers. There is scope for agonising, asking grand questions, and expecting grand answers. There is drama and the whiff of large amounts of currency stashed in secret swiss bank accounts.

Petty corruption does not excite these grand passions, even when you pay it day in and day out, as a matter of routine. It hurts the common man the most, but since it is designated petty, it normally escapes attention.

However, things are changing. The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) in its National Anti- Corruption strategy Summary, released recently, has recognised the importance and need for curbing petty corruption.

It is a big victory for those who have been campaigning for more attention on retail corruption. 

The commission in its note calls for computerising all activities involving delivery of public services on a mission mode. It also says that direct interface between the citizens and the public officials should be reduced with the help of new technologies. 

The CVC summary also calls for a simplification of rules and procedures and avoiding the need for citizens to approach public officials for intervention. The experience of most citizens is while some parts of the process is streamlined, various government departments keep the decision on taking 'the final call' with themselves. The case is relevant when one looks at the issue of passports. While most of the operations are streamlined, the final call on verification rests with the overworked and overburdened police department, giving huge scope for corruption.  

The CVC summary also calls for instituting 'anti-bribery hotlines' and whistleblower provisions for getting information on bribes paid. 

This is again a victory for those who have been working to set up anti-bribery hotlines, like  

So finally, the cat is out of the bag. Petty corruption is no longer petty. It is as grand in scale and impact as the 'grand corruption'.

-By Venkatesh Kannaiah