First part here.
Summary of part I: Seeking an advantage is inherent for survival. Corruption is to seek an advantage which is contrary to rules and laws and is therefore "unfair". Laws can be unfair and provide a rationale for corruption. More and more formalization and computerization can reduce discretion and breaking of rules but also make the system more dis-empowering.
Let's distinguish between two kinds of corruption: illegality, and unfair discretion.
The former is to explicitly break a law or a process of decision making without suffering adverse consequences. Laws and processes are relational. Their breakage usually hurts someone and benefits the criminal. To commit an illegality without suffering adverse consequences is to have gained an unfair advantage.
The latter (unfair discretion) is to exercise discretion in a way which betrays a position of trust and responsibility by hurting the majority of entrusting population.
Discretion in decision-making introduces the possibility of corruption. But discretion cannot be done away with. Everything cannot be easily formalized, nor it should be.
To tackle the latter form of corruption is not easy, and it can only be slowly chipped away at through transparency, public availability of records, and some form of accountability for one's decisions.
It is the former kind of corruption (the willful evasion of rules and laws) which is by far the larger chunk of what we call corruption in India.
Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the laws are fair. It is not that easy to create blatantly unfair laws (though unfair laws do exist: gender-biased laws for one example) since the process is generally transparent in democratic societies and the laws must be constitutional.
What makes people follow rules and laws? Obviously, incentives and disincentives. If we want people to follow rules, we must ensure that the law-abiding are rewarded and the law-breakers are punished. Explicit rewards for being law-abiding are usually absent in modern societies. Nobody gets a medal for being a good driver who follows lane discipline or for not taking a bribe. Following the law is an implicit mandate.
The only way therefore to encourage people to follow rules is to have an effective mechanism for punishing the lawless. That is the responsibility of the law-enforcement, the prosecution, and the judiciary. In India, all three institutions are broken in massive ways. It is not my purpose here to go over the ways in which these institutions are broken, but there is broad agreement that they are.
However, there is one aspect of upholding the law which has escaped the notice of all commentators that I have read on this issue.
To create a law is to make a wish for a certain state of affairs. The wish must be financed for it to be effective. Without additional funding to go with each additional law, the law will only further burden an already over-burdened law-enforcement machinery. No wonder more laws are not going to solve India's problems.
Each law creates a burden for its enforcement and adjudication. We should carefully look at the cost of each law and then determine whether the society benefits more with or without that law.
If we assume that the criminal law is a contract between the individual and the state, then upholding of contracts and punishment for breaching them should be paramount on our list of priorities.
The state is mostly a disinterested actor in our courts - in other words, prosecution is lethargic and apathetic - so the failure of criminal adjudication in our country may be somewhat explicable. Let us see if we do any better at promptly correcting breaches of contract where both parties are interested (civil litigation).
In a survey of 183 countries, the rank of India when it comes to enforcing contracts is ... 182. Only Timor-Leste (or East Timor), a war-torn country with a population of just about one million, is behind us.
This is the real, horrific, state of our country, which many people consider the next super-power.
We are a lawless land, and corruption is therefore a way of life in India.
(to be continued)