Give immunity to bribe givers, punish takers: Kaushik Basu

New Delhi: Chief Economic Advisor Kaushik Basu has come out with a novel concept for combating corruption by suggesting that bribe giving be made a legitimate activity, while bribe takers be accorded stringent punishment.

Protection would prompt the bribe giver to cooperate with the law and help the authorities to get hold of bribe taker, Basu argued in a working paper on bribery.

Citing illustrations as to how people are harassed into paying bribes for the things they are legally entitled to, the paper said, "giver of a harassment bribe should have full immunity from any punitive action by the state."

Once the act of giving a bribe is made a legitimate activity, he said, "the interests of the bribe giver and the bribe taker will be at divergence. The bribe giver will be willing to cooperate in getting the bribe taker caught."

The main argument of the paper is that such a change in the law will cause a dramatic drop in the incidence of bribery, Basu said, adding that bribery is rampant in India and it is a scourge that deserves to be banished.

"Tackling this is a problem that has to be a joint effort of all wings of the government and also of all political parties and even civil society," he added.

In the post-bribe situation, Basu said it is in the interest of the bribe giver to have the bribe taker caught.

Since the bribe giver will cooperate with the law, the chances are much higher of the bribe taker getting caught, he added.

"In fact, it will be in the interest of the bribe giver to have the taker get caught, since that way the bribe giver can get back the money she gave as bribe. Since the bribe taker knows this, he will be much less inclined to take the bribe in the first place," the paper said.

Basu, however, said it is not being argued here that the bribe giver be pardoned in retrospect.

"A retrospective pardon is like an amnesty; and barring rare exceptions, amnesties are not worth it. They encourage corrupt behavior by raising hopes of future pardon and corrodes a society?s morals," he added.

Basu said the law should be changed so that, at the time of committing bribery, both parties know that the giver has immunity and that the taker not only has a heftier penalty but also has to return the bribe.