Nobody really knows what the size of the bribe economy is,” says Joylita Saldanha, product manager at Ipaidabribe.com (Ipab), a website that allows people to report bribes they have given or refused to give, or just report pleasant experiences where they met honest government officers. Most Indians may have at some point given a bribe, but do we know what the market size of the bribe economy is?
Thus far, Ipab puts the number at Rs.57.31 crore—a number collated from 22,022 reports on the website since its inception in August 2010. “That leaves out a whole section of people who don’t have access to the Internet,” says Saldanha, an engineer who quit her job at a technology-oriented start-up to join the team.
Swati and Ramesh Ramanathan, who founded Ipab’s parent company Janaagraha in 2001, wanted to create a tool to collate this data when they thought up the concept of the site. “Why does the system allow bribes and how does it seep in? And these are legitimate services (like getting birth certificates or registering land acquired) that everybody is entitled to,” says Saldanha, adding that the idea is not to take a moral stand on bribery. “Go ahead, pay that bribe, but tell us what you paid so the next guy gets the same deal. Over time people might haggle the amount they pay to Rs.0,” she says, laughing.
The stories reported on the site are not unusual for the Indian reader, but they are on record. They stand as proof. “I come from a state where nothing works without a bribe,” says Rituraj Kumar, 26, a Bangalore-based information technology professional who moved to the city in 2006 from Patwatoli, Bihar. “It was disturbing then, and it is disturbing now. But now that I have rent to pay, I really don’t have money to waste on bribing people for basic amenities,” says Kumar.
Kumar’s battle with gas agencies began in Whitefield, Bangalore, in December when he had just moved into an apartment in that area. While many refused, quoting too many back orders, others agreed on the condition that he buy a package deal with two cylinders, a gas stove and other paraphernalia from the agency at prices ranging from Rs.7,500-10,500. “I found out that I can get a single cylinder and I don’t have to buy anything from the agency,” says Kumar, who spoke to four agencies before he finally posted a complaint on the Bharatgas website and got his connection in August.
He posted his story on Ipab’s “I did not pay a bribe” section. “Most people don’t know that these things can be done without paying extra. It is their right,” he says. Kumar is now a regular visitor to the site for information on procedures.
For Kumar, the site was a platform to share his victory against corruption.
But for some the site serves as an essential aid to the system.
In 2010 and 2011, Bhaskar Rao, then commissioner of the transport department and road safety in Bangalore, received more than 200 reports from Ipab. “I knew the department was one of the most corrupt, but when I was handed real complaints from the public, I had a weapon,” says Rao, who implemented a three-stage approach to punishment.
He started by putting up the names of offenders on the noticeboard in what he calls “naming and shaming”, followed this up by seeking explanations and ended with an official notice. It was during his tenure that the regional transport offices introduced automated driving tracks to reduce the incidence of test instructors taking bribes and ensured that people who were issued licences really knew how to drive.
Most reports on the Ipab site pertain to bribes given to the traffic police or those paid during land registration. The site began as a platform where stories could be reported anonymously. “We wanted to start by checking if people would share their stories anecdotally,” says Saldanha. Starting 15 February, they decided to give people the option of giving their reports by name for additional legitimacy.
On an average day, the Ipab team of seven begins by filtering out reports that seem fraudulent. This is followed by collecting reports and emailing them to the government departments concerned. One such report by Shubham Khandelwal of Chennai said he paid a bribe while trying to get Aadhar cards. An enrolment officer at the centre asked for a bribe of Rs.2,000 to issue receipts for his father’s and his Aadhar cards. After refusing to pay for three days, Khandelwal finally paid Rs.350 and only then received his father’s receipt. The report was sent to the directorate of census operations (DCO), Tamil Nadu, Chennai—eventually disciplinary action was initiated against the officer.
“It’s a small victory, but it’s a victory,” says Saldanha.
In August, the website launched Mainerishwatdi.com, a Hindi version.
Non-governmental organizations and government agencies from at least 20 countries, including Kenya and countries in South Asia, have contacted them for help in replicating the site, says Saldanha. “The geography of corruption is interesting. Across the world people are pained by the process,” she says.
Initially, people would report on the site because most of them just wanted to get the frustration out of their system, she says. “When it was anonymous, it was like a confessional,” she adds. Now, with the names being attached, the reports seem more legitimate.
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If you volunteer, you will
• Help in data categorization and analysis.
• Interact with government officials to document correct processes and procedures for various services.
• Mobilize citizens and increase awareness to report bribes on Ipaidabribe.com.
• Omidyar Network
• The Asia Foundation for development and marketing of Ipaidabribe.com’s mobile apps
• Private individuals and other grant-making institutions