Few doubt that India is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Corruption is a two-faced monster: Bribes expedite decisions in the short term, but they increase transaction costs in the long run.
The Centre for Media Studies (CMS) has done an exhaustive study on the nature and extent of corruption in India. The main results that were published in Mint on Monday offer some clues about the variants of Indian corruption and how to tackle them. There is potential for quick gains in the long battle against sleaze.
(Illustration by: Jayachandran / Mint)
Corruption is usually a result of shortages—of commodities, jobs, houses and various entitlements—the government tries to meet outside the market system. The serpentine queues that form outside public housing authorities or for water connections usually lead to corruption; the civil servant with the right to distribute a subsidized or under-supplied good tends to demand his pound of flesh from the beneficiary. This variety of corruption will reduce over the long term as the market plays a bigger role and India becomes less of a shortage economy.
But there is another type of corruption which can be dealt with swiftly. The CMS study shows that a lot of sleaze is related to paperwork. Access to land records, sale and purchase deeds, and land surveys is easier when a currency note is slipped in with the application. The police make their buck when filing complaints or first information reports. Getting passports is an old headache. Income and caste certificates, too. And the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is a bureaucrat’s dream.
There are digital answers to the second type of corruption. The era of dusty files is over. Both the national and state governments should move aggressively on e-governance. Access to basic information such as land records should be available to citizens at kiosks all around the country. We have already seen successful experiments in computerized land records in states such as Andhra Pradesh. Applications, too, could be digitized and citizens should have the freedom to make them from their own computer terminals. In short, the tools of the information age should be used to destroy the artificial information shortages in government offices.
Corruption is a sticky problem. But intelligent use of information technology can help attack parts of this problem effectively.
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