Q&A: India's poor most subjected to corruption - Transparency International

Thu Jul 1, 2010 5:24pm IST

Beggars detained by officers of Delhi's Social Welfare department await to see the magistrate at a detention centre in New Delhi August 22, 2007. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/Files

Beggars detained by officers of Delhi's Social Welfare department await to see the magistrate at a detention centre in New Delhi August 22, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Adnan Abidi/Files

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NEW DELHI (TrustLaw) - Transparency International India's Executive Director, Anupama Jha, speaks to Nita Bhalla, AlertNet's South Asia correspondent about corruption in India.

Q: How would you describe the level of corruption in India?

A: Corruption is endemic in India and is present in every sector of society. There is corruption within government, the private sector, as well as the police and the judiciary.

In 2009, India was ranked 84 out 180 countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index with an integrity rating of 3.2-3.6 (O being the most corrupt and 10 being the least), indicating that the country is perceived to be highly corrupt by experts. In the last five years, India's CPI ranking has been pretty much the same - going up or down a rank or two - which indicates that not enough is being done towards tackling graft.

The Global Corruption Barometer (GCB), a survey aimed at gauging the views of the general public, says people have no faith in politicians. They say politicians are the most corrupt in India, followed by officials involved in law-making. There is no real indication of how much money we are losing through graft. Poor people pay money to get basic services which should be free, rich corporates pay money in procurement and tendering. Then you have corruption in construction with roads, dams falling apart and bridges collapsing as the allotted funds have been misused.

Q: What types of corruption are common in India?

A There are all kinds of corruption present in the country. There is corruption in the water and power sectors, where the public have reportedly had to pay for the restoration of services which they are entitled to. Also, with the police who are willing to take bribes for not booking speeding or parking offences or who demand money for filing complaints.

There is also corruption at much higher levels such as with the corporates and public companies in tendering and procurement, in the defence sector, in land registration issues ... the list is endless. There is even corruption in judiciary where senior judges have in the past siphoned off money from the treasury. This is incredible as the judiciary is the last body in the world where you can go to redress grievances, but even if they are corrupt, where does that leave the public?

Q: Who is most impacted by such levels of corruption?

A: It is without a doubt those who live below the poverty line, according to the India Corruption Study 2008, where we looked at below poverty line households. We researched eleven government services including the police, government social service systems like subsidised food schemes and employment opportunities as well as water, health, electricity, housing and forestry.

We found that people living below the poverty line have to pay over 9 billion rupees ($195 million) annually as bribes in order to avail these basic and needs-based services. This means those services which they were supposed to get for free, they have to bribe in order to get them. We have heard that poor people have had to bribe hospital staff in places for blood for their sick relatives sometimes.

We also found that the police were thought to be the most corrupt department throughout the country and the least corrupt was primary school education. Land records and registration was another major area of corruption and so was housing.

Q: What progress has been made or initiatives taken to tackle graft?

A: Definitely progress has been made in checking corruption, but what is more evident is that the people indulging in corrupt practices are working overtime. So for every positive measure to tackle corruption, those corrupt people are working twice as hard to continue.

There have been many initiatives and tools to check corruption and as a result, there has been some success.

(a) The Right to Information act (RTI) has been a relatively effective tool in tackling graft. This gives any citizen of India the right to information about the government and what it is doing with taxpayers' money.

(b) Social Audit is a tool. Government departments, implementing agencies, civil society organisations can use it monitor, plan, manage and measure the non-financial activities and organisation's social and commercial operations. This is basically a scrutiny of the public utility against its social relevance.

(c) E-governance is also gaining momentum. Amongst the many tools being developed to fight corruption, there is increasing focus on e-government - using Information and Communication Technology such as the internet - to enable greater public access to information on government processes.

(d) Citizens' charters are also now being adopted by more public sector organisations. This is the commitment of the organisation towards standard, quality and time frame of service delivery, grievance redressal mechanisms, transparency and accountability.

These are all great tools, but there is a general lack of awareness about these initiatives especially amongst those living below the poverty line.

Q: What governmental bodies exist to check corruption?

A: There is the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Central Information Commission (CIC) and the Controller Auditor General (CAG). These are all anti-corruption bodies but they are not exercising their authority enough.

Q: How does India compare to neighbouring countries in the region in terms of the level of graft?

A: You can't compare neighbouring countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan with India in terms of corruption. These are strife-torn countries where to a certain extent corruption is understandable. But in a democratic country like India, this is unacceptable. We are not a strife-torn nation. We have the Maoist insurgency in many parts of the country but that is because of a lack of development, which has been impeded by corruption.

Q: What more does India need to do to fight corruption?

A: India is a signatory but has not ratified the UNCAC - United Nations Convention Against Corruption. The government must sign this and show that is serious about tackling graft. The government bodies established to check graft should also exert their authority more and step up and do more.

There has to be a greater awareness of initiatives aimed at fighting corruption, addressing grievances and bringing about more transparency and accountability, especially amongst the poor.

According to our studies, only one percent of those living below the poverty line in the state of Bihar - one of the most underdeveloped and perceived to be one of the most corrupt - knew about the RTI (Right to Information Act).

There has to be more efforts to help people understand their rights to services so they can speak out and not be taken advantage of. Poor people are the least informed but are subjected to graft the most.

(TrustLaw is a global centre for free legal assistance and anti-corruption news run by Thomson Reuters Foundation. For more TrustLaw stories, visit www.trust.org/trustlaw/ )

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