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February 19, 2017

What corruption does !

For the longest time, it was believed that corruption was only but a slight problem that affected a small number of people, the dishonest diplomats who reap the benefits of a disorganised system that lacked certain checks and balances. Then, N.Ram and a group of senior journalists uncovered the Bofor’s scandal in the 1980s and suddenly everyone was thrust into reality. Till then, the nation lived in a state of peaceful ignorance.

But, this is arguably less of a problem than say the impact that this has on the mindset of the people, both inside and outside of the system. It’s an interesting exercise to explore the causes of corruption in a system. Leslie Holmes,  in her book on corruption, explains that one of the primary reasons for bribes, nepotism, kickbacks is due to a lack of respect for the law and existing framework of rules and regulations. She explains that “several of the Asian states were formerly colonies and “the law” has been seen by some citizens as theirs’ and therefore not respected in the same way that it might be in a long-established independent country, such as many western states.” and thus a sense discord and transgression is established. Another reason she attributes to corruption is peer-pressure. If one sees another engaging in questionable acts but benefit from it without having to deal with consequences, he/she will naturally take to those observed means to achieve their goals because they take it to be an effective way to deal with problems. But the consequences of corruption on the large scale functioning of the country can lead to disastrous outcomes where the political, economic and civic health of the community deteriorates drastically. It is widely believed that corruption is only a reflection of existing mindsets in society, where it is equally important to understand that corruption is also a factor in generating and perpetuating these traits in society. Someone inside the system, who is honest, hard working and morally conscious is often times pressured to adhere to these norms of bribes owing to the predominance if it around him/her. That’s not to say that everyone inside the system is corrupt but the probability of it certainly goes up.

For people outside of the system, the common man/woman, can’t help but give bribes to make sure their work is done. It is, in some cases, the only way to achieve the goal they have in mind. But, another way to which it affects the people outside of the system is how it intoxicates the minds of the public who adopt this framework of functioning in every aspect of their life. They need to wait in long queues to get something done. They bribe the one in charge and get it done in minutes. They need to pay an exorbitant amount for a commodity. Even one gets VIP entries at various temples around the country where 100s wait in line for hours and hours. They befriend a store employee and get a discount. The need to pay taxes to the government? They take the money and put it in an offshore account. They break a traffic signal and get caught? They bribe the police officer and move on. This is the outcome of a well-established system that asks the morality of a citizen to be sacrificed in order to get something done the “easy” way out. So, what is the solution? That is difficult to answer but goes along the lines of awareness, an election of honest and civic-minded politicians and technology. Through internet based interactions, it is highly plausible to eliminate the human element that leads to bribes and corruption can thus be tackled.

Is sustainability an option only for those with money? Affordability and accessibility are two things that need to be ensured before we say that sustainability should be a necessity and not a luxury. It’s almost certain that if two evenly priced choices were given to consumers to choose from, out of which one is sustainable and the other is not, the sustainable option would be the one chosen. Unfortunately, to come across that kind of situation, in reality, is highly unlikely. Almost always, organic goods are more expensive than the inorganic foods. The reasons for this are interesting to explore.

The organic market share in the retail market is very low and one of the reasons could be because the farmers need to pay extra money to get the food certified as ‘organic’ and the entire process is strenuous and time-consuming. Also, it’s not that organic food is more expensive, it’s that conventional, non-organic food is subsidised to make it accessible to the common man. So, in context, it appears cheaper than organic food. But, this also raises the question – why isn’t organic food subsidised, it quite evidently the better option? This is a structural, organisational flaw that needs to be corrected. Furthermore, the production cost of organic food is very high. As no artificial pesticides or insecticides are used, extra labour is required for tasks like hand-weeding, cleanup of polluted water and the remediation of pesticide contamination. Another problem is the fact that supply is unable to meet demand. Organic farmlands account for a marginal amount in India compared to the large-scale factories that produce inorganic food, so to meet the growing needs of the population is problem enough and to do that with limited land area adds to the list! But, don’t you wonder? Why is it that we would pay extra to get a better television, better clothes, better phone, better laptop but when it comes to better, safer, healthier and sustainable food, we think twice! This is the ironic situation we find ourselves in, today. We care so deeply about things that potentially harm us and when we need to prioritise for the things that can make our lives significantly better, we refuse to pay a little extra money. But still, we think of the financial insurance of our future at the cost of our healthy present. The hard truth is that the present will reflect on the future, directly and indirectly.

But, this problem practically solves itself and the answer is ‘us’! All we need to do is, demand for organic food that recycles resources, promotes ecological balances and conceives biodiversity and voila! – the solution/s will appear in front of us. We need to understand that we, the consumers are the ones who shape the market and not the other way around. If we start asking for organic food and boycott conventional foods, arrangements will be made to expand organic farmlands, simplify the certification process and improve pricing schemes. Collaborative activism is the way forward. As a community, if we start asking for healthy, nutritional food, the market can’t help but provide it to us (and at cheap prices too!) so next time, you see a jar of organic strawberry jam, don’t just buy it and complain about the price. Buy it and tell your friends to buy it as well! And soon you’ll find that, it’ll be both the healthier and the cheaper option as well.