NGOs Transparency International India (TII) and Centre for Media Studies (CMS) have brought out the "India Corruption Study 2007", which finds that about one-third of Below Poverty Line (BPL) households in the country bribed officials to avail a total of 11 services — from police to PDS. The survey covering 22,728 households in all states and Union Territories, estimates that Rs 883 Cr was paid as bribe by BPL households last year.
A closer reading of the statistics throws up some very interesting pointers.
1. Perception of corruption is much higher than the actual experience, atleast for the most basic services. This indicates that the time may have come to revise the stereotype of rampantly corrupt public service delivery, though perceptions about corruption still remains. The fact that basic civic services like school education, PDS, health, and electricity appear to be relatively less corrupt only strengthens this arguement. The most heartening finding is that despite 54% of repsondents perceiving PDS as corrupt, only 8% experienced corruption (88% of repsondents accessed the PDS). The emergence of multiple corruption watchdogs, more pro-active approach to addressing corruption by Government agencies, and the general increase in public awareness due to greater economic and social empowerment may have been the contributing factors for this heartening development.
Interestingly, though NREGS is perceived by 47% as corrupt, only 11% experienced corrupt practices, and only 7.5% actually paid bribes. But unlike other services, the local non-officials formed a quarter of the bribe recipients. The relatively lower level of corruption in NREGS may once again be attributed to many of the aforementioned factors.
2. That police, land records, and housing are the three most corrupt services is understandable given the huge stakes involved. In the case of Police, not only are the stakes very high but there is also an element of urgency involved, both of which gets cashed in by rent seekers. The financial stakes are very high in case of housing and land records. That a significant number of respondents used a contact to access these three service also underlines their importance. Interestingly, despite the fact that these three are the least used services, they make up more than 50% of the total bribes paid. Further, unlike other services, corrupt staff and not procedural or other issues are the main problems faced by the citizens in accessing these services.
3. That only a very small percentage (less than 5%) of those refused to pay a bribe when faced with a need to do so, indicates a citizenry which has accepted bribes as a part of reality.
4. The survey shows a surprisingly low level of involvement of political representatives in corrupt practices in delivery of public services. Again, contrary to widely held perceptions, the role of middlemen has been declining and officials collect bribes directly. That citizens now deal directly with officials, dispensing with intermediaries, is in itself an encouraging development.
The major concern from the findings of the study is the amount of corruption involved in the delivery of police, land records and housing services. These three services, which are used by only 10-15% of population are not percived to be the most corrupt, but also are the most corrupt. Unlike other common public services, which have become more impersonal and more readily exposed to public scrutiny, these three involve closer interaction with officials, thereby opening up greater probability of corrupt practices.
It is therefore important that the public watchdogs, Government, and anti-corruption agencies focus attention on these three departments. We may need to, like banking sevices which are found relatively less corrupt, introduce technological innovations like more computerization to make processes more transparent and functionaries accountable in these departments. We also need to make the delivery of these services more impersonal by eliminating the need for multiple interactions with officials.
It is ironical that the departments administered directly by the three All India Services officers - IAS, IPS and IFS (land records, police, and forest) are the three most corrupt departments!