बुधवार, 3 सितंबर 2008

Governance and Corruption

Deepti Priya Mehrotra
A study on corruption across India reveals that approximately 50million BPL households paid as much as Rs 8,830 million in bribes inone year to access 11 selected public services. Highest on thecorruption list is the police.
The benefits of planned economic growth are supposed, at some pointof time, to reach the poor. Despite 60 years of independence, notonly has this `trickle down' failed to materialise, there actuallyseems to be a `trickle up': bribes paid by the poorest households togovernment functionaries for accessing public services. Whilecorruption exists in all strata, it hurts the most when it affectsthose already living on the brink.
The poor pay bribes of over Rs 8,000 million to access publicservices.
A recent study, designed and conducted by the Centre for MediaStudies (CMS) in collaboration with Transparency International India(TII), reveals that the approximately 50 million BPL (below thepoverty line) households in India paid as much as Rs 8,830 millionin bribes, within one year, to access 11 selected public services.This colossal amount, extracted from the poor, indicates a ruthlesscynicism at work within the innards of the State.
The stranglehold of corruption exists across all 31 states and unionterritories of India. The TII-CMS India Corruption Study-2007 foundthat in order to avail of the 11 public services studied,approximately one-third of the total number of BPL households had topay bribes.
The worst service, in terms of corruption, turns out to be thepolice. This is hardly surprising, yet it does provide occasion topause and question the credibility of a law-and-order system thatharasses the most powerless and vulnerable. Across the country,around 10% (5.6 million) BPL households interacted with the policeduring one year; of them, 2.5 million had to pay bribes to policefunctionaries. The total amount in bribes paid by these householdsto police personnel is estimated to be a whopping Rs 2,148.2million. Around half of the households had no option but to pay abribe at the very first step -- the point of registering theircomplaint.
Six of the 11 public services covered in the study are `need-based' -- police, banking, housing, forests, the National Rural EmploymentGuarantee Scheme (NREGS), and land records/registration. The restare `basic services' -- the Public Distribution System (PDS),health, school education, electricity, and water supply. The 11services can be ranked as follows, in terms of their corruptioncount: police (1), land records/registration (2), housing (3), watersupply (4), NREGS (5), forests (6), electricity (7), health (8), PDS(9), banking (10), and school education (11). Need-based services,being monopolistic and/or involving asset-creation, rank relativelyhigh on the corruption scale compared to basic services.Land records/registration and housing emerged as the most corruptservice, after the police. At issue is people's fundamental right toshelter and livelihood. Nearly 18% of BPL households interacted withthe land records/registration department, of which one-tenthreported paying a bribe, amounting to an estimated Rs 1,234 million.Nearly one-fourth of bribes were extracted simply for the provisionof land records. Over half of the households visited the concernedoffices three or more times to access routine services.
Alok Srivastava, Research Director, CMS, notes: "The governmentclaims computerisation of land records helps reduce corruption --but our study disproves this." As regards housing, 78% of BPLhouseholds that interacted with the housing department experienceddifficulties; one out of two said `corrupt staff' was the mainsource of their difficulties. With two out of every five (a total ofapproximately 1.5 million) households paying a bribe or usingcontacts to avail of housing services, an estimated Rs 1,566 millionwas pocketed, largely by departmental staff. Around 45% ofhouseholds found corruption had increased during the past year.To avail of water supply, an essential service, BPL households paidRs 239 million in bribes. Occasions for bribery wereinstallation/maintenance of handpumps, meter installation, piperepair, supply of irrigation water, etc. The NREGS, a scheme meantto provide relief to households suffering chronic unemployment, hasbecome another site for harassment. Around 0.96 million rural BPLhouseholds paid bribes to avail of NREGS benefits, to the tune of Rs71.5 million in the course of one year! Around 47% of rural BPLhouseholds that interacted with the NREGS found officials/staffcorrupt. Half the households that paid bribes did so to getregistered for work under the scheme.
Around 20% of BPL households interacted with the forest services.These largely tribal households, whose livelihoods depend on theforests, paid bribes to the tune of Rs 240 million, in one year, toobtain permission to collect fuel wood and gather saplings, etc.Most paid bribes directly to the concerned staff and officials.In a country where food security is still a pipedream and millionssuffer from malnutrition, health and PDS department personnel havenot spared people. Health services interfaced with four-fifth of BPLhouseholds, of whom over half faced difficulties and 15% paid bribesor used contacts. Another 2% were denied health services becausethey could not pay a bribe. Around Rs 87.0 million was paid inbribes during the course of a year. However, nearly one-fourth ofhouseholds felt that grievance redressal mechanisms were improving.As for the PDS, more than half of the 47.23 million households thatinteracted with service-providers had no doubt that corruptionexisted in the department. Around one-third felt corruption hadincreased during the year. Around 10% paid bribes or used a contact -- the majority to get a new ration card or take home their quota ofrations. Three out of four households that paid bribes did sodirectly to the concerned staff/officials. Bribes were paid to thetune of Rs 458 million.
Expansion of school education is being promoted with much fanfare,yet some 3.1% BPL households reported paying bribes -- the majorityfor new admissions, issuance of certificates, and promotions. Theamount paid in bribes is estimated at Rs 120 million. Srivastavasays: "The major share is in the higher classes -- Classes 9 to 12.Most bribes were demanded by school officials or staff, and werepaid directly to them." One can only wonder about the kindof `education' being imparted by adults themselves mired incorruption.
Dr N Bhaskara Rao, Chairperson, CMS, says that previous CMS studieson corruption (2003 and 2005) showed that corruption involvingcitizens had declined, albeit marginally, in certain publicservices. This improvement may be partly due to specific measureslike the Right to Information (RTI) Act, citizens' charters, andsocial audit. Yet, levels of corruption remain unacceptably high,particularly in the context of BPL households. The ultimate proofof `inclusive growth' would be to ensure that basic servicesactually accrue to the poor. The TII-CMS study should be viewed, inthis context, as "a tool to sensitise the larger public andconcerned stakeholders, and prompt governments and civil societygroups to take locally relevant initiatives".
Srivastava explains that a vast network of experienced investigatorsand field workers carried out the survey, covering 22,728 randomlyselected BPL households. The field work took place between November2007 and January 2008.
The findings emphasise the fact that no state is near the `zerocorruption' mark. However, the level is relatively moderate in somestates including Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra,Uttarakhand, Chandigarh and Tripura. It's high in others such asGujarat, Jharkhand, Kerala, Delhi, Orissa and Manipur, very high instates like Rajasthan, Karnataka and Meghalaya, and highest (to theextent of being `alarming') in Assam, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir,Uttar Pradesh and Goa.
This nationwide survey suggests an agenda; it is up to civil societyand politicians to respond. The direction is clear: urgent measuresare needed to curb corruption, particularly as it affects thoseliving at the margins. There is need for widespread awareness,vigilance, and committed efforts to improve governance and checkdishonest practices at every level. It must be recognised thatpublic services are entitlements, not charity to be provided ordenied according to whim. States that are worst affected obviouslyneed to devise strategies to deal with what is, in effect, not onlya crisis of governance but also an ethical crisis.
CMS and TII have already held a series of meetings with variousgovernment departments to discuss the relevant findings and suggestpossible strategies. They understand that it is important to workwith policymakers as well as with people at the grassroots. Seeingthe research as only Phase I, R H Tahiliani, Chairperson, TII,describes plans on the anvil for advocacy: "Phase II and Phase IIIof this endeavour would include training of grassroots-level workersand activists and arming them with information about the extent ofthe corruption in different areas, and use of the Right toInformation Act to empower the poorest to stand their ground and notpay bribes while demanding and accessing the services they areentitled to." TII hopes to provide each BPL household in the countrywith a passbook of entitlements and keep them updated periodicallyso as to fight poverty and improve the lot of the poorest of thepoor.

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