I feel “dirty” – why and how bribes work in Bangalore

As I tweeted, I am in Bangalore now and will be for some time working with our team. Landed at midnight (every international flight lands only between 11 pm and 2 am, at night in India – dont even ask why) in Bangalore airport Wed. I had a couple of boxes with me and 2 laptops – one was my PC which has all my files and mail from ages ago and another was my new MacBook (relatively new, its a few months old now).

Apparently you are allowed only one laptop when you clear customs in India. So they scan every bag and mark the ones with a laptop with an X in red. I was duly asked to “step aside” to be inspected. There was a customs officer T.P. Ullas who asked me why I have two laptops. I said one was an old (5 years) one, which has my backup and another was the laptop I used. He quickly pointed me to a not so official cartoon that stated “only one laptop per person”.

“Okay” I said what now? I can “declare it and put it in my passport” (they make an entry in your passport) so I have to take it back when I return.

“No” replied T.P. Ullas, “what else do you have?”.

“Clothes, books, not much” I said.

Ullas: “Well you have to pay the duty”.

Me: “But I am taking these things back”.

Ullas: “That’s not the rule”.

Me: “What is the rule then?”. annoyed.

At this point I was tired, bored and really wanting to get this over with. I looked around and there were 3 others going through the same predicament.

“Okay, what’s the duty” I ask.

Ullas: “Show me the receipt of original purchase”.

Me: “I dont have it, I dont carry it around”.

Ullas: “Okay then wait here. I’ll ask around”.

He goes and asks another guy and a third guy and they quickly start to talk about IPL Cricket.

I am totally annoyed at this point. So I get in front of them and confront him with ” I want to move quick, tell me the duty and I’ll pay it”.

Again he replies “I need the receipt. We cant do anything without the receipt”.

Me: “I bought it for about $1000. That’s the base price”

He goes inside to a room to bring a book with some numbers apparently that indicate duty prices. He says “I cant take your word for it, so it has to be the maximum”.

Resigning to the fate, I wanted him to get this over with. He then wanted to open all the boxes and assess everything from my Blackberry and iPhone – “Why do you carry 2 phones?” was another question, to my IPod, Kindle and finally came up with a ridiculous “I think the maximum estimate is Rs. 120,000” or about $3000. (Not sure even if the sum total of all my items would amount to that).

“You can do this quick or you can do it by the book” he says then.

I did not quite want to understand it. I knew he was asking to be paid and since I did not have any local currency I wanted to pay by check for the duty. He wont hear of check.

He pulls me into a smaller room and takes my passport and says “Just go outside to the ATM machine and bring me Rs. 3000 (about $90) and I’ll take care of it”.

Given the endless catch 22 of receipts and duties, I just stepped out, went to the ATM, withdrew $100, came back. He took me back to the room inside, satisfied with the Rs. 3000, gave my passport back.

Awful. Dont know why I had do give in and not sure why I had to pay him. Still trying to cleanse. It was the difference between $100 or $3000.

What would you do? Why? How do I get this better next time?

2 thoughts on “I feel “dirty” – why and how bribes work in Bangalore”

  1. Very unfortunate, but now they take bribe way more than you given. There should be grievance cell or number for such thing. I came across with same situation today only. And i am feeling disgusted. I want to do something about this, but how is the question.

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