Chanakya on Corruption

Just as fish moving under water cannot possibly be found out either as drinking or not drinking water, so government servants employed in the government work cannot be found out (while) taking money (for themselves)-Chanakya [Arthashastra, Chapter IX, “Examination of the Conduct of Government Servants” in Book II, “The Duties of Government Superintendents”] The following are excerpts from Arthashastra. Clearly the bewildering alphabet soup of CAG, CVC, DRI, ED, SFO, CBI, ACB and various forms of Lokayukta and Lokpal have much to learn from the ancient veteran of Indian statecraft.

Just as fish moving under water cannot possibly be found out either as drinking or not drinking water, so government servants employed in the government work cannot be found out (while) taking money (for themselves)-Chanakya [Arthashastra, Chapter IX, “Examination of the Conduct of Government Servants” in Book II, “The Duties of Government Superintendents”] The following are excerpts from Arthashastra. Clearly the bewildering alphabet soup of CAG, CVC, DRI, ED, SFO, CBI, ACB and various forms of Lokayukta and Lokpal have much to learn from the ancient veteran of Indian statecraft.


The business of keeping up Accounts in the office of accountants.

The superintendent of accounts shall have the accountant’s office constructed with its door facing either the north or the east, with seats (for clerks) kept apart and with shelves of account-books well arranged.

Therein the number of several departments; the description of the work carried on and off the results realised in several manufactories (Karmánta); the amount of profit, loss, expenditure, delayed earnings, the amount of vyáji (premia in kind or cash) realised, —the status of government agency employed, the amount of wages paid, the number of free labourers engaged (vishti) pertaining to the investment of capital on any work; likewise in the case of gems and commodities of superior or inferior value, the rate of their price, the rate of their barter, the counterweights (pratimána) used in weighing them, their number, their weight, and their cubical measure; the history of customs, professions, and transactions of countries, villages, families, and corporations; the gains in the form of gifts to the king’s courtiers, their title to possess and enjoy lands, remission of taxes allowed to them, and payment of provisions and salaries to them; the gains to the wives and sons of the king in gems, lands, prerogatives, and provisions made to remedy evil portents; the treaties with, issues of ultimatum to, and payments of tribute from or to, friendly or inimical kings— all these shall be regularly entered in prescribed registers.

From these books the superintendent shall furnish the accounts as to the forms of work in hand, of works accomplished, of part of works in hand, of receipts, of expenditure, of net balance, and of tasks to be undertaken in each of the several departments.

To supervise works of high, middling and low description, superintendents with corresponding qualifications shall be employed.

The king will have to suffer in the end if he curtails the fixed amount of expenditure on profitable works. (When a man engaged by Government for any work absents himself), his sureties who conjointly received (wages?) from the government, or his sons, brothers, wives, daughters or servants living upon his work shall bear the loss caused to the Government.

The work of 354 days and nights is a year. Such a work shall be paid for more or less in proportion to its quantity at the end of the month, Ashádha (about the middle of July). (The work during) the intercalary month shall be (separately) calculated.

A government officer, not caring to know the information gathered by espionage and neglecting to supervise the despatch of work in his own department as regulated, may occasion loss of revenue to the government owing to his ignorance, or owing to his idleness when he is too weak to endure the trouble of activity, or due to inadvertence in perceiving sound and other objects of sense, or by being timid when he is afraid of clamour, unrighteousness, and untoward results, or owing to selfish desire when he is favourably disposed towards those who are desirous to achieve their own selfish ends, or by cruelty due to anger, or by lack of dignity when he is surrounded by a host of learned and needy sycophants, or by making use of false balance, false measures, and false calculation owing to greediness.

The school of Manu hold that a fine equal to the loss of revenue and multiplied by the serial number of the circumstances of the guilt just narrated in order shall be imposed upon him.

The school of Parásara hold that the fine in all the cases shall be eight times the amount lost. The school of Brihaspathi say that it shall be ten times the amount. The school of Usanas say that it shall be twenty times the amount. But Kautilya says that it shall be proportional to the guilt. Accounts shall be submitted in the month of Ashádha. When they (the accountants of different districts) present themselves with sealed books, commodities and net revenue, they shall all be kept apart in one place so that they cannot carry on conversation with each other. Having heard from them the totals of receipts, expenditure, and net revenue, the net amount shall be received.

By how much the superintendent of a department augments the net total of its revenue either by increasing any one of the items of its receipts or by decreasing anyone of the items of expenditure, he shall be rewarded eight times that amount. But when it is reversed (i.e., when the net total is decreased), the award shall also be reversed (i.e., he shall be made to pay eight times the decrease). Those accountants who do not present themselves in time or do not produce their account books along with the net revenue shall be fined ten times the amount due from them.

When a superintendent of accounts (káranika) does not at once proceed to receive and check the accounts when the clerks (kármika) are ready, he shall be punished with the first amercement. In the reverse case (i.e., when the clerks are not ready), the clerks shall be punished with double the first amercement. All the ministers (mahámáras) shall together narrate the whole of the actual accounts pertaining to each department. Whoever of these (ministers or clerks?) is of undivided counsel or keeps himself aloof, or utters falsehood shall be punished with the highest amercement.

When an accountant has not prepared the table of daily accounts (akritáhorúpaharam), he may be given a month more (for its preparation). After the lapse of one month he shall be fined at the rate of 200 panas for each month (during which he delays the accounts).

If an accountant has to write only a small portion of the accounts pertaining to net revenue, he may be allowed five nights to prepare it. Then the table of daily accounts submitted by him along with the net revenue shall be checked with reference to the regulated forms of righteous transactions and precedents and by applying such arithmetical processes as addition, subtraction, inference and by espionage. It shall also be verified with reference to (such divisions of time as) days, five nights, pakshás, months, four-months, and the year.

The receipt shall be verified with reference to the place and time pertaining to them, the form of their collection (i.e., capital, share), the amount of the present and past produce, the person who has paid it, the person who caused its payment, the officer who fixed the amount payable, and the officer who received it. The expenditure shall be verified with reference to the cause of the profit from any source in the place and time pertaining to each item, the amount payable, the amount paid, the person who ordered the collection, the person who remitted the same, the person who delivered it, and the person who finally received it.

Likewise the net revenue shall be verified with reference to the place, time, and source pertaining to it, its standard of fineness and quantity, and the persons who are employed to guard the deposits and magazines (of grains, etc.).

When an officer (káranika) does not facilitate or prevents the execution of the king’s order, or renders the receipts and expenditure otherwise than prescribed, he shall be punished with the first amercement. Any clerk who violates or deviates from the prescribed form of writing accounts, enters what is unknown to him, or makes double or treble entries (punaruktam) shall be fined 12 panas.

He who scrapes off the net total shall be doubly punished. He who eats it up shall be fined eight times.

He who causes loss of revenue shall not only pay a fine equal to five times the amount lost (panchabandha), but also make good the loss. In case of uttering a lie, the punishment levied for theft shall be imposed. (When an entry lost or omitted) is made later or is made to appear as forgotten, but added later on recollection, the punishment shall be double the above.

The king shall forgive an offence when it is trifling, have satisfaction even when the revenue is scanty, and honour with rewards (pragraha) such of his superintendents as are of immense benefit to him.


Detection of what is embezzled by government servants out of state revenue.

ALL undertakings depend upon finance. Hence foremost attention shall be paid to the treasury.
Public prosperity (prachárasamriddhih), rewards for good conduct (charitránugrahah), capture of thieves, dispensing with (the service of too many) government servants, abundance of harvest, prosperity of commerce, absence of troubles and calamities (upasargapramokshah), diminution of remission of taxes, and income in gold (hiranyópáyanam) are all conducive to financial prosperity. Obstruction (pratibandha), loan (prayóga), trading (vyavahára), fabrication of accounts (avastára), causing the loss of revenue (parihápana), self-enjoyment (upabhóga), barter (parivartana), and defalcation (apahára) are the causes that tend to deplete the treasury.

Failure to start an undertaking or to realise its results, or to credit its profits (to the treasury) is known as obstruction. Herein a fine of ten times the amount in question shall be imposed.

Lending the money of the treasury on periodical interest is a loan.

Carrying on trade by making use of government money is trading. These two acts shall be punished with a fine of twice the profit earned.

Whoever makes as unripe the ripe time or as ripe the unripe time (of revenue collection) is guilty of fabrication. Herein a fine of ten times the amount (panchabandha) shall be imposed.

Whoever lessens a fixed amount of income or enhances the expenditure is guilty of causing the loss of revenue. Herein a fine of four times the loss shall be imposed.

Whoever enjoys himself or causes others to enjoy whatever belongs to the king is guilty of self-enjoyment. Herein death-sentence shall be passed for enjoying gems, middlemost amercement for enjoying valuable articles, and restoration of the articles together with a fine equal to their value shall be the punishment for enjoying articles of inferior value.

The act of exchanging government articles for (similar) articles of others is barter. This offence is explained by self-enjoyment.

Whoever does not take into the treasury the fixed amount of revenue collected, or does not spend what is ordered to be spent, or misrepresents the net revenue collected is guilty of defalcation of government money. Herein a fine of twelve times the amount shall be imposed.

There are about forty ways of embezzlement: what is realised earlier is entered later on; what is realized later is entered earlier; what ought to be realised is not realised; what is hard to realise is shown as realised; what is collected is shown as not collected; what has not been collected is shown as collected; what is collected in part is entered as collected in full; what is collected in full is entered as collected in part; what is collected is of one sort, while what is entered is of another sort; what is realised from one source is shown as realised from another; what is payable is not paid; what is not payable is paid; not paid in time; paid untimely; small gifts made large gifts; large gifts made small gifts; what is gifted is of one sort while what is entered is of another; the real donee is one while the person entered (in the register) as donee is another; what has been taken into (the treasury) is removed while what has not been credited to it is shown as credited; raw materials that are not paid for are entered, while those that are paid for are not entered; an aggregate is scattered in pieces; scattered items are converted into an aggregate; commodities of greater value are bartered for those of small value; what is of smaller value is bartered for one of greater value; price of commodities enhanced; price of commodities lowered; number of nights increased; number of nights decreased; the year not in harmony with its months; the month not in harmony with its days; inconsistency in the transactions carried on with personal supervision (samágamavishánah); misrepresentation of the source of income; inconsistency in giving charities; incongruity in representing the work turned out; inconsistency in dealing with fixed items; misrepresentation of test marks or the standard of fineness (of gold and silver); misrepresentation of prices of commodities; making use of false weight and measures; deception in counting articles; and making use of false cubic measures such as bhájan— these are the several ways of embezzlement.

Under the above circumstances, the persons concerned such as the treasurer (nidháyaka), the prescriber (nibandhaka), the receiver (pratigráhaka), the payer (dáyaka), the person who caused the payment (dápaka), the ministerial servants of the officer (mantri-vaiyávrityakara) shall each be separately examined. If any one of these tells a lie, he shall receive the same punishment as the chief-officer, (yukta) who committed the offence.

A proclamation in public (prachára) shall be made to the effect “whoever has suffered at the hands of this offender may make their grievances known to the king.”

Those who respond to the call shall receive such compensation as is equal to the loss they have sustained.

When there are a number of offences in which a single officer is involved, and when his being guilty of parókta in any one of those charges has been established, he shall be answerable for all those offences. Otherwise (i.e., when it is not established), he shall be tried for each of the charges.

When a government servant has been proved to be guilty of having misappropriated part of a large sum in question, he shall be answerable for the whole.

Any informant (súchaka) who supplies information about embezzlement just under perpetration shall, if he succeeds in proving it, get as reward one-sixth of the amount in question; if he happens to be a government servant (bhritaka), he shall get for the same act one-twelfth of the amount.

If an informant succeeds in proving only a part of a big embezzlement, he shall, nevertheless, get the prescribed share of the part of the embezzled amount proved.

An informant who fails to prove (his assertion) shall be liable to monetary or corporal punishment, and shall never be acquitted.

When the charge is proved, the informant may impute the tale-bearing to someone else or clear himself in any other way from the blame. Any informant who withdraws his assertion prevailed upon by the insinuations of the accused shall be condemned to death.


Examination of the conduct of government servants.

THOSE who are possessed of ministerial qualifications shall, in accordance with their individual capacity, be appointed as superintendents of government departments. While engaged in work, they shall be daily examined; for men are naturally fickle minded and like horses at work exhibit constant change in their temper. Hence the agency and tools which they make use of, the place and time of the work they are engaged in, as well as the precise form of the work, the outlay, and the results shall always be ascertained.

Without dissension and without any concert among themselves, they shall carry on their work as ordered.

When in concert, they eat up (the revenue).

When in disunion, they mar the work.

Without bringing to the knowledge of their master (bhartri, the king), they shall undertake nothing except remedial measures against imminent dangers.

A fine of twice the amount of their daily pay and of the expenditure (incurred by them) shall be fixed for any inadvertence on their part.

Whoever of the superintendents makes as much as, or more than, the amount of fixed revenue shall be honoured with promotion and rewards.

(My) teacher holds that, the officer who spends too much and brings in little revenue eats it up; while he who proves the revenue (i.e., brings in more than he spends) as well as the officer who brings inasmuch as he spends does not eat up the revenue.

But Kautilya holds that cases of embezzlement or no embezzlement can be ascertained through spies alone.

Whoever lessens the revenue eats the king’s wealth. If owing to inadvertence he causes diminution in revenue, he shall be compelled to make good the loss.

Whoever doubles the revenue eats into the vitality of the country. If he brings in double the amount to the king, he shall, if the offence is small, be warned not to repeat the same; but if the offence be grave he should proportionally be punished.

Whoever spends the revenue (without bringing in any profit) eats up the labour of workmen. Such an officer shall be punished in proportion to the value of the work done, the number of days taken, the amount of capital spent, and the amount of daily wages paid.

Hence the chief officer of each department (adhikarana) shall thoroughly scrutinise the real amount of the work done, the receipts realized from, and the expenditure incurred in that departmental work both in detail and in the aggregate.

He shall also check (pratishedhayet) prodigal, spend-thrift and niggardly persons.

Whoever unjustly eats up the property left by his father and grandfather is a prodigal person (múlahara).

Whoever eats all that he earns is a spendthrift (tádátvika).

Whoever hordes money, entailing hardship both on himself and his servants is niggardly.

Whoever of these three kinds of persons has the support of a strong party shall not be disturbed; but he who has no such support shall be caught hold of (paryádátavyah).

Whoever is niggardly in spite of his immense property, hordes, deposits, or sends out—hordes in his own house, deposits with citizens or country people or sends out to foreign countries;—a spy shall find out the advisers, friends, servants, relations, partisans, as well as the income and expenditure of such a niggardly person. Whoever in a foreign country carries out the work of such a niggardly person shall be prevailed upon to give out the secret. When the secret is known, the niggardly person shall be murdered apparently under the orders of (his) avowed enemy.

Hence the superintendents of all the departments shall carry on their respective works in company with accountants, writers, coin-examiners, the treasurers, and military officers (uttarádhyaksha).

Those who attend upon military officers and are noted for their honesty and good conduct shall be spies to watch the conduct of accountants and other clerks.

Each department shall be officered by several temporary heads. Just as it is impossible not to taste the honey or the poison that finds itself at the tip of the tongue, so it is impossible for a government servant not to eat up, at least, a bit of the king’s revenue. Just as fish moving under water cannot possibly be found out either as drinking or not drinking water, so government servants employed in the government work cannot be found out (while) taking money (for themselves).

It is possible to mark the movements of birds flying high up in the sky; but not so is it possible to ascertain the movement of government servants of hidden purpose.

Government servants shall not only be confiscated of their ill-earned hordes, but also be transferred from one work to another, so that they cannot either misappropriate Government money or vomit what they have eaten up.

Those who increase the king’s revenue instead of eating it up and are loyally devoted to him shall be made permanent in service.

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