The tweets by comedian-actor Kapil Sharma about some civic officers asking him for a bribe in connection with the construction of his office has kicked up a row. Sharma’s reference to “achchhe din’’ has irked the followers of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP. The revelation that the extension of his office was being built illegally has now landed him in trouble.
Often celebrities rely on their managers or the people who handle their personal work and land in a soup if the latter goofs up. Sometimes they don’t care. Sometimes they think their celebrity status is good enough for authorities to ignore any illegal act. We don’t know which category Sharma fits in. However, it seems like he will have to now deal with the authorities for the illegal extension of his Andheri bungalow and some alterations in his Goregaon house. If he is on the wrong side of the law, the officials will, of course, take care of the same. Nobody would justify an illegal act of encroachment or construction though one would find thousands of such examples in Mumbai or for that matter, in any major city in India.
Still, there is one aspect in this entire episode that should not be ignored — retail corruption. If some local municipal officers told Sharma or his people that they would have to pay bribes to get an illegal extension, it must be probed. We, the common people react angrily when we hear or read about scams worth hundreds of crores of rupees. We curse the politician-contractor nexus when we negotiate through pock-marked roads. However, what bothers us more in daily life is the retail corruption at the local level— at government and municipal offices — the points of interface between us and the state or city governments.
It could be at the stamp duty and registration offices. It could be at the local civic offices where citizens or their housing society representatives have to go for civic issues. It could be obtaining a driving license or registering for new vehicle at the regional transport office (RTO). It could be about government or civic offices in connection with various certificates or NOCs one has to obtain. Or it could about dealing with the traffic police. The situation in most of these places has remained the same over years though the ruling parties kept changing.
Retail corruption can undermine the best efforts of a politician or an administrative officer to provide good governance even though he/she has nothing to do with it. At the end of the day, a citizen’s experience shapes his opinions about a government or a ruling party.
According to those who have been handling governance, the only way to prevent or reduce (unlikely that it will go away completely) retail corruption is transparency and a time-bound service delivery mechanism. The right to information (RTI) and online or computer system based delivery system would reduce it drastically. Passport offices are classic examples of what can be done. Today, getting a passport has become hassle free. Similar experiments can be made in the RTO or property registration offices.
Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis took a good step in this direction by enacting a law on the right to services. It has worked in some cases but needs tough implementation in other places. Maybe, the Kapil Sharma controversy will prompt him and his team to clamp down on retail corruption.