There are three simple things nearly all middle class Indians can do to strike defining blows against black money, one of the primary cause-and-effect components of the vicious cycle of corruption and terrorism in which we find ourselves.
Why do I equate corruption and terrorism? Because they are two dark faces of the same coin.
Institutionalized corruption, such as we see all around us in India today, arises from one or more of three beliefs that are held by many citizens of our country.
One: That it is all right to break laws.
Two: Even if it were not all right, many others are doing it and getting away with it
Three: Even if one might get caught, the chances that one gets brought to justice are slim or non-existent, depending on whom you know or can influence in the echelons of power. The adage that power corrupts is alive and thriving in the corridors of our elected egocracy.
For every Jessica Lal, may her soul rest in peace, who received delayed but not denied justice, there are, arguably, hundreds if not thousands of unnamed victims whose tales will never be told.
Corruption leads to terrorism in three ways.
One: It creates a largely invisible, insidious pool of black money. This is deployed by those who transact in it towards the most profitable illegal businesses known: armaments, drugs and human trafficking. If in doubt, check out just a few of these news stories on the builder-underworld nexus:
Two: It deprives people of legitimate rights and alienates them from the government and from law enforcement agencies, creating a vacuum which is filled by parallel governments.
And I do not refer to just the situation in the Maoist heartland.
Sometimes, fortuitously, people find their own solutions. But if this is what has to happen, then those who are elected but do not work need to step down and make way for those who are truly building the nation, brick by brick.
But I digress. Let me return to black money. A subject on which much has been written, and some laudable efforts have been made – such as the Prevention of Money Laundering (Amendment) Act, 2009 and consequent tracking systems like Know Your Customer (KYC) and the much-awaited Unique Identification (UID) programme. But much more remains to be done. And much of this needs to be done by citizens – people like you and I – not the government alone.
Because you or I, or one of our near and dear ones, could be the next victim of a terrorist attack – in which we ourselves, albeit unwittingly, played the role of a facilitator.
And how might that be?
For example, we might buy a house and pay a substantial part of the proceeds in cash. To avoid tax. Because that’s’ the way the market operates. Because we want to sell an existing house to buy the new one, and can’t find a buyer to give us a reasonable price on “full cheque payment” basis. This cash finds its way to subversive elements via the aforementioned underworld-builder nexus.
Or consider this. You are about to travel abroad. Turns out your passport is about to expire, and you need a new one. Unfortunately, you changed jobs twice in the past 3 years; as you have not stayed at one place long enough, the police verification process is going to be very cumbersome. Someone tells you they know an agent who can get your passport done for a fee, no questions asked. What percentage of people like you would pay that fee – and how many forgo or defer that foreign trip and follow the correct but cumbersome path? Guess what – each such instance that bypasses the system exploits a loophole of corruption that a terrorist can similarly leverage for a false identity. And who knows which of your family members might be shopping there next time when a bomb goes off at Sarojini Nagar?
Among the simplest forms of petty public corruption are without-bill sales – even at respectable convenience stores, pharmacies and non-branded car repair shops in upmarket localities. The law requires you to insist on a bill and pay the appropriate sales tax or VAT, a sum usually much less than what an evening’s dinner out with friends will cost. This gentle tax evasion, multiplied several thousand times, represents that much less funds available for basics like food, shelter or education for the needy somewhere else in the country. Pushing folks less fortunate than us into desperate straits where they turn into criminals – or into cadre-constituents of insurgent movements.
Thus, there are three things we could pledge as our bit against black money:
One: No black money transactions. Insist on full cheque payments when you sell your house. Or car. Or painting. Or jewellery. Trust me, you will find buyers – and sellers. It might take some patience, and the price may – optically – look less. But there are no hidden costs in blood.
Two: No bribes. Follow the due process of law – and use RTI to the hilt if anyone gets in your way. If you don’t know how, sign up at http://www.rtiindia.org
Three: Ask for bills whenever at a shop or establishment in an urban or commercial area. If they refuse, note the details of the incident and report it. Sites like http://www.indiaconsumerforum.org can help you.
If you live in Delhi and want to stand up against corruption, join the March Against Corruption on 30th January, 2011. Details are available at http://www.indiaagainstcorruption.org/
And even if you cannot join, please pass the word around.