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Manik Taneja, is not new to corruption. Like many an Indian, this software engineer has also paid a bribe under dire circumstances. However, he is a deviation, instead of pushing this incident into the dark corners of his mind never to be remembered again, Taneja took up the fight against a corrupt officer that arm twisted him into paying a bribe.
On his last trip to the US, Taneja purchased a kayak which was worth close to Rs. 60,000. On arriving at Bangalore airport, in spite of declaring the cost of the boat and producing the necessary receipts as proof of purchase, the on duty Customs official, BG Reddy demanded that Taneja pay a duty of Rs. 25,600 which was around 36.6% of the cost of the kayak. “I was aware that there is a Rs. 35,000 duty free limit that applied to Indian citizens returning from abroad after a period of 10 days or more. In lieu of that rule, I should have been asked to pay a duty of 36.6% on the excess amount of Rs. 35, 000, which works out to approx Rs. 9,000,” he says.
However, the Customs official insisted that Taneja pay 36.6% of the entire amount claiming that the duty free allowance did not apply to sporting equipment. “I found it ridiculous that this allowance could apply to mundane things like Televisions, washing machines but not to sporting equipment. My arguments proved futile as the customs official then threatened to impound the boat,” he points out.
The official then said that Taneja could pay him Rs. 8,000. “His suggestion was that since this was "sporting equipment" he was making special allowances for me. I knew this was basically a bribe because I asked if he would give me a receipt for the same, to which he replied in the negative. It was 5am in the morning and after a 20 hour flight I didn't have the stomach for a lengthy argument. I had already spent more than 30 minutes trying to reason with him and I am ashamed to say that I took the easier route and paid him the money,” says Taneja.
However, Tanjea, unwilling to let the erring official go scot-free decided to do some research of his own. “The next morning, I verified from the Indian customs website with some help from members in the kayaking community that my interpretation of what the duty should have been was correct and that the customs official not only had demanded a bribe but had misrepresented the law. It was at this point that I decided to go public with this story. I originally planned to go to Lokaykuta with my complaint but after searching on the internet for instances about people who had been subjected to same sort of ordeal, I came across the website ipadabribe.com and reporting the story there seemed to be the logical first step,” he says.
Two days after posting his complaint on Ipaidabribe.com, Taneja was contacted by the Joint Commissioner of customs, Talla Ravi who asked him to register a formal complaint. “It came as a pleasant surprise that a senior officer had taken cognizance of my complaint and I was happy to cooperate with him on this matter. I visited the Joint commissioner at his office at the airport, where I was shown the CCTV footage of the incident and was asked to submit my formal statement of complaint against BG Reddy. It was at this point that I willingly paid the correct amount of duty on my kayak, which amounted to Rs. 9,000 (approx) and an additional Rs. 50 was charged as an interest. After having paid the duty, I petitioned that the Rs. 8,000 that was collected by Mr. Reddy be returned to me since it was apparent from the CCTV footage that the officer on duty had collected money from me,” he mentions.
Two weeks later Taneja was asked to visit the commissioner again for the final hearing on the matter. “It was during this meeting that I was told that Mr. Reddy had denied taking the bribe from me but since their investigations had proved otherwise, Reddy had been placed under temporary suspension and that the matter was to be escalated to the central vigilance committee (CVC). I was also given to believe that the chance of bribe amount being recovered and returned to be me wasn't going to be possible,” he points.
Taneja adds, “Hopefully this serves as example to all who have been subjected to this sort of harassment. We cannot allow officials to get away easily. These days, websites such as ipaidabribe provide avenues that allow us to report such instances and make our grievances heard.”