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  • Writer's pictureK S Deepak


In its simplest sense, corruption may be defined as an act of bribery or misuse of public position or power for the fulfillment of selfish motives or to gain personal gratifications. It has also been defined as ―Misuse of authority as a result of consideration of personal gain which need not be monetary‖. Legally corruption is defined as ―use of public power for private advantage in ways which transgresses some formal rule or law‖. Corruption in present times has spread over the entire society as a cancerous disease in all forms. The most common forms of corruption are taking of bribes (money offered in cash or kind or gift etc), nepotism (undue favour from holder of patronage to relatives), misappropriation (using the money of other people for one‘s own sake), patronage (undue or wrong support by people in position to friends and family members and favoritism).

Corruption is not a malady of modern age. History is replete with instances where Judas have received bribes in the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Babylon and Jewish society. Bribery was very common in Roman Empire as well as in France during the fifteenth century. England was described as a ‗sink-hole‘ of corruption in the seventeenth century and Gibbon described it as the most infallible symptom of constitutional liberty in the nineteenth century. Even Chanakaya has mentioned cases of embezzlement by government officials. During the British Rule, bribes were accepted not only by the Indian officials but even by the highly placed British officials. Lord Clive and Warren Hastings were tried by a parliamentary committee after their return to England. Thus, corruption is not only an age-old malady but a global problem too.

Types of Corruption

Corruption can be defined and categorized in different ways. The most common types or categories of corruption are supply versus demand corruption, grand versus petty corruption, conventional versus unconventional corruption and public versus private corruption. There are other categories or ways of describing corruption, such as “systemic” versus “individual” or “isolated,” corruption by “commission” versus by “omission,” by the degree of coercion used to perform the illegal act, and the type of benefit provided.

Supply-side corruption and demand-side corruption

“Supply-side corruption” is used to describe the act of offering an illicit payment or undue advantage, whereas “demand-side corruption” relates to the acceptance or solicitation of such a payment or advantage. “Active” and “passive” corruption are terms that have been used synonymously with supply and demand corruption.

Conventional corruption and Unconventional corruption

“Conventional corruption” occurs when government officials, whether higher or lower ranking, illegitimately receive or accumulate an undue advantage for their own personal use, disregarding public interest. There is an element of reciprocity within conventional corruption: both the solicitation and the acceptance of bribes (supply and demand bribery) are therefore considered forms of conventional corruption.

“Unconventional corruption” exists where a public or government official acts without consideration for the public’s interest, the goal being to attain a specific and personal gain. However, a key element is that no relationship of reciprocity exists, as there is no clear-cut transaction between two parties. This type of corruption includes acts, such as misappropriation, theft, embezzlement, and breach of trust.

Grand and petty corruption

“Grand” and “petty” corruption are both sub-categories of conventional corruption. Petty corruption is sometimes equated with “bureaucratic corruption,” which implies involvement of public administration officials and non-elected officials. Some examples of the use of petty corruption include bribes paid to enforcement officials, customs personnel, health service providers, and other government officials. Facilitation payments, also known as “grease” payments, fall under this category. Grand corruption involves higher ranking government officials and elected officials who exploit opportunities that are presented through government work. It is more often the result of bribes offered or paid in connection with larger scale government projects, such as infrastructure and construction projects.

Political corruption

“Political corruption” is considered a type of grand corruption due to its seriousness and the high-ranking level of public officials involved. It exists where politicians and government agents who are entrusted with enforcing laws are themselves corrupt: it occurs at the top levels of government. Another type of grand corruption is “State capture,” which is defined as a company or organization that shapes and influences legislation or government policies in an entire sector (e.g., the extractive and mining industry or taxation) through payments. The opposite effect can also occur, whereby public officials attempt to manipulate actors in the private sector for their own personal gain, also known as “reversed State capture.” State capture has a not-so-distant equivalent known as “influence corruption,” for which the actors and goals are identical. The difference is in the absence of any payment, advantage or transaction ever taking place. In this case, influence is exerted based on the organization’s ability to impact policy as a result of its size, its ownership, or potential ties to, and interactions with, State officials.

Public and Private Corruption

Corruption can also be distinguished by its “public” or “private” nature. The difference lies in the sectors in which operate the participants of the illicit act. Public corruption involves a public official (whether domestic or foreign) as one party to the corrupt act, whereas private corruption involves only individuals in the private sector (which is why it is sometimes called “private-to-private corruption”). Amidst public corruption, legislation can be distinguished by the type of public official it targets, whether the official is a “domestic” public official or a “foreign” public official. When a particular private company demonstrates corrupt behavior, its clients and suppliers have the possibility to go to competitors if the corruption is noticed. But in the case of government, taxpayers and citizens cannot rely on other organizations to provide the same government services, such as healthcare or public safety. The level of monopoly of the good or service provided therefore affects the perceived threat. Definitions of public corruption often emphasize the notion of State versus society relationships. Corruption however exists within and between private businesses and individuals in various forms, without any involvement from government officials or agencies. Some examples of corrupt acts in the private sector include bribing, swindling, and mafia-methods. As the public and private sectors are more and more intertwined as a result of outsourcing, privatization, rapid growth in the private sector in some countries, and the growing influence of multinational corporations and State-owned enterprises, lines are blurred between public and private funds; and, hence, these types of corruption.

Systemic corruption

“Systemic corruption” exists where corruption is pervasive or entrenched in a society. In other words, it exists where it is routine in dealings between the government and private individuals or businesses. In such cases, tension exists between formal and informal rules, as there are strong incentives for public officials, businesses, and individuals to comply with this illegitimate system. In contrast, isolated or individual corruption exists when corruption is rare or consists of a few individual acts.


In conclusion, while corruption remains endemic and deep-rooted, India’s anti-corruption measures remain half-hearted and slow. This is largely because the vital institutions raised to fight graft lack genuine autonomy and a serious sense of purpose. Even a handful of anti-corruption institutions (CVC, Lokpal) that enjoy some degree of autonomy, have not shown any signs of being independent. However, fighting entrenched corruption should not be left to these handful of macro or elite institutions alone. This is because, while corruption that happens at the top level often attracts media attention and the occasional national outrage, a great deal of corruption, which affects the ordinary person, is at the retail level. While the CVC handles these complaints involving Group C & D level officials, yet for all practical purposes, the CVC is a toothless body. The only visible progress that has come to reduce corruption at the lower levels is the growing digitisation of services. However, tech alone will not end the corruption phenomenon, which is like a hydra-headed monster.

In short, fighting corruption requires bold structural reforms and a comprehensive refinement of existing laws. In addition, there is a need to urgently repair India’s broken criminal justice system, which, in many ways, acts as the real mothership of corruption. Cases taking years and decades to be resolved, including big-ticket scandals, encourage impunity and reinforce corrupt behaviour. Similarly, it is widely known that most corruption or kickbacks are linked to opaque political funding (evident in the current practice of allowing opaque electoral bonds) in India. In short, without major improvement in campaign finance reforms—particularly transparency, disclosures and accountability—it would be impossible to cut the roots of grafts in key sectors of the economy and society. Thus, as India aims to emerge as a responsible global actor, it is imperative for the political leadership to bring comprehensive political reforms including transparency in political funding, reform of justice delivery system, and maintaining the integrity of the RTI process to attack corruption from its roots.

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