Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Breathalizer

So yesterday evening I decided to take Sindya out for a nice dinner; we went to this restaurant called 'Jolly Nawab' at the Windsor Manner hotel. Dinner was great; I had lamb chops marinated in pomengranate juice - extrmeley tender and tasty.

On the way back to Jaynagar (actually, on RV road right around 25th - 30th cross) at about 11:40pm, there were a couple of cops standing around asking people to slow down. One cop asked me if I'd had anything to drink. Since I'd had only a single beer with dinner, I felt I had nothing to hide and answered truthfully. He asked me to pull over and take a breathalizer.

At this point, I was actually feeling really good about the whole thing; there are too many people driving drunk on Bangalore streets and I'm glad that they stop people and check for alcohol.

So anyways, I blow into the instrument once, and the percentage show up as zero; so they ask me to blow again. It still doesn't show up so they ask me how much I had. I tell them that I've only had one beer two or three hours ago when we started dinner (long dinner). Then they ask to me blow once more. At this point, I'm getting a little irritated but oblige anyway.

Finally (since nothing showed up again), the cop is like:
"Okay. three hundred rupee fine!" I was shocked.
"But there's no percentage!"
"If there is a percentage, the fine is a thousand rupees!"
"No. I'm not paying. I've only had one beer, and I'm below the allowed percentage!"

At which point I just turned around and walked back towards the car and drove off. I really wish I knew Kannada so I could yell at the guy. I forgot to get his name so on the way back I actually slowed down, asked him his name ("Kale Gowda", supposedly), thanked him, and drove off.

Oh well, India will be India. I wouldn't really call it extortion, because when I told him I wasn't going to pay, he just kind of let it go. But what is it that incents people like him to ask for bribes? Part one is that they're probably not paid a lot. But neither are cops most places in the world.

A few months ago I heard someone from egovernments.org speak about how they'd been able to significantly increase the income tax collection by making processes transparent, and incenting tax officials to not take bribes and collect fair tax from everyone. Having worked firsthand with income tax officials (known to be the most corrupt of the government departments) from all over the state, he still believed that all of these guys were basically good people who were in a system that incented them towards corrupt practices. That was heartening because I thought I was being completely naiive in the "everyone is basically good" view. Yet here was someone who had worked with hundreds of people first hand and seen them change as a result of a better system.

So part of it is the financial incentives. But I think more than that is the respect. If everyone thinks you're corrupt, you're not going to tarnish your image by taking one more bribe since it's expected of you. I think Bangalore desperately needs someone who can take the police force and turn it around. A great leader, a great PR person, and a great CEO. Any takers?

2 comments:

umang said...

I think what Bangalore needs is a dictator!

herain said...

bangalore and every other indian city (to varying degrees)

it all boils down to economics. I have a "just enough" theory. Cops in the US may not be paid much compared to other professions, but they make "just enough" to provide their families with a decent lifestyle (a decent house, car, education for the kids etc.) and hence the incentive to be corrupt does not exist.

most people are basically good, but everyone has different thresholds beyond which they would do something (e.g. take a bribe) that they would not normally do. i.e. giving a salary & perks that allows cops to provide their families with a "good enough" life may not eliminate corruption altogether, but it will definitely remove the incentive to be corrupt for a lot of ppl.