The recent headline declaring that Indians pay nearly 27000 crores bribes each year has caught the attention of quite a few readers. While many are aghast at the quantum, some shrugged their shoulders in smug awareness of the rotten people in government, and others humbly admitted that unless we the people change there is no salvation for India.
Let me briefly go over this survey of Transparency International. It says that we paid bribes totalling 26,728 crores for the public services of health, education, land, judiciary, police, taxation, public distribution system, telecom and railways. It also pointed out that more bribes were collected in the departments of health and education when compared to the telecom and railway services.
Now should we take this to mean that we Indians are generally corrupt and wouldn’t hesitate to bribe for personal gain, or that the employees posted in the sectors of health and education are more corrupt than those in railways or telecom? My response to both would be an emphatic NO.
I am sure it doesn’t require much convincing to see the improbability of the more corrupt employees being posted in departments of education and health. But what then does it mean? It indicates two things: 1) in the railways and telecom sector, owing to the technological innovations of the recent past, some transparency has resulted limiting the scope for maneuvering or indulging in rent-seeking behaviour. 2) we are not more inclined to corruption but are compelled to pay only because there is no choice and we tend to be less heroic when it comes to the health of a loved one or the education and future of a child.
It is my strong belief that in any country there are always 5% of people, on one end of the spectrum, who do not require any rules or regulations to indulge in any socially productive behaviour and another 5%, at the other end, who tend to indulge in bad behaviour, unless restrained firmly by social sanction or law enforcement. The remaining 90 % of the population responds to a system of risks and rewards. Stringent punishment for deviant behaviour and reward for good behaviour will ensure that a majority of the people will abide by the law of the land and behave in a socially productive manner. Sir Gladstone the British Prime Minister once said “The purpose of a government is to make it easy for people to do good and difficult to do evil”.
We don’t have to go too far or exercise our imagination too much to prove this point. The same Indian who pays little attention to rules while driving and violates all laws with impunity in India, obeys all laws and acts in a socially productive manner when he is in the US, Germany or any such country. Why? The answer is two fold – first of all in most of the developed countries there are systems to ensure socially productive behaviour and to severely punish anything deviant. Secondly, there are instruments of accountability like citizens charters and right to information to ensure that most of the basic public services are delivered to the citizens without any hassle or extortion. Now with the passage of Freedom of Information Bill in the Parliament a powerful instrument to enforce accountability is available to the people of this country. So what we need to have is a greater citizen usage of this tool, which ensures transparency, accountability and efficiency in governance process.
It needs to be borne in mind that the rampant corruption is only a symptom and not the disease and that corruption is only a manifestation of the failure in the governance process. Apart from the above mentioned tools, there are other systemic solutions that need to be put in place to combat the menace of corruption. The clean up should start with reforming the electoral process, ensuring speedy and accessible justice, and decentralization of the governance to facilitate delivery of most of the basic services by the local governments.