Tuesday, September 11, 2012

How I almost paid a bribe

One of the biggest anxieties about moving back to India was the thought of corruption affecting daily life , especially that of an entrepreneur. I had the dreaded thought of having to bribe my way into almost anything and everything. After 18 months of going bribe free, it seemed almost a matter of time that I had to cough something up sooner or later. Well it turned out to be sooner.

I was out on an errand this morning when I received a phone call from a Madhya Pradesh check-post official (check post officers guard state border crossings to catch illegal movement of goods). The official claimed that a consignment sent by Qualitas Technologies (my company) did not have the customer's Tax Identification No mentioned and thus he was going to seize the consignment and slap a penalty of Rs 150,000. I asked the official (all in Hindi) what the problem was and why this was such a big deal. He mentioned the details of an invoice that we had generated in January of this year with sufficient detail to prove he wasn't bluffing. He then proceeded to state that due to this missing TIN number, he had the authority to cause a lot of problems. On asking him how I could overcome it he said that he would send me a bank account no and that the consignment (of Rs 400,000) would get released if I deposited Rs 35,000 within the next 15 minutes.  Being caught off guard I wasn't really sure what this was about - I hung up and called my sales and accounts guys about this particular invoice. 

It turned out that this consignment was shipped to a customer in January and that he was reshipping this to his branch office in Noida. During transit there was a check post review where our invoice was part of the transit documentation. I immediately called this customer and told him the situation. On hearing this, the customer's accounts and logistics team was alerted, all paper work checked and it was verified that everything was indeed in order. They told me also that this is a common scam used by octroi and excise officials to harass victims into coughing up bribes in fear of their consignment being seized. Just to be sure, they tracked down the vehicle and it was way beyond MP and somewhere near Rajasthan.

Not wanting to run into hassles that may have occurred, I had instructed my office to wire the money - which I immediately put a stop to (literally in the nick of time). I also told the "official" who called back to stop harassing me and that he could do whatever he wished to do. 

It did definitely catch me off guard though - had I not gotten the information in time from my customers and team, I would have probably gone ahead by paying off this so called official. I'm glad to still stay bribe free for now.