Corruption is viewed as a synonym for politicians by our youth. First, corruption is India’s one of the major problems (after a burgeoning population). The only way to tackle corruption is to bring down the ruling government and change the political system in the country. Only true leaders should be elected.’
And somewhere along, there was an overriding sense of disillusion too. Perhaps the only problem where cynicism was the underlying emotion even for the young and habitually optimistic. Tucked away in the inside pages of a national daily was a report this week that the Anti-Corruption Bureau had nabbed “red-handed” a lowly official accepting a princely bribe of Rs.100. The official, we were informed, has been immediately suspended. He was caught accepting the money “across the table”, not even under the table, much like the infamous Mr Bangaru Laxman, former President of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The crime may be small in monetary terms but the punishment was exemplary. All punishment is meant to be exemplary because no system can ever catch all offenders. When a thief is caught, he is subject to exemplary punishment as a warning to potential thieves. The inequity in the system however lies in the fact that while this gent got caught and was suspended for petty corruption; those who transact in crores almost always go scot-free. When caught, corrupt politicians often use the so-called “verdict of the electorate” as a smokescreen to escape punishment by manipulating the system. To do this they often subvert the law and order machinery and co-opt the law enforcers. Little wonder then that in public perception the “most corrupt” section of society is the police.
This is not the corruption that is talked about in editorial pages and on television chat shows. This is the Rs.100 across-the-table kind of .corruption. This is about the bribe the local police station seeks to lodge a first information report when a crime is reported. This is about the bribe the doctor demands to treat a patient quickly. This is about the “Chai Pan!” the electricity meter reader takes to read your meter wrongly. The study’s ten sectors are: police, health, power, education, ration, land administration, judiciary, taxation, railways and telecom.
It is a measure of the impact of economic reform and liberalisation in the telecom sector that it figures as one of the “less” corrupt sectors. A decade ago this would not have been the case given that the monopoly status of the government telephone company gave its minions enormous power to seek a bribe every time a telephone user interacted with the operator. The railways used to be a den of corruption till computerisation and improved working conditions for staff made them also an area of low corruption, according to this study. While the police have been declared the “most corrupt” sector, in terms of public perception, the largest amount of money is, however, tucked away in the public health care system by doctors and nurses, with active involvement of chemists and pharmaceutical companies.
By charging patients extra for medicines that are supposed to be supplied free, by pushing them to purchase medicines from specific chemists and companies, by recommending unrequired diagnostic tests at preferred pathology laboratories, by simply seeking gratification for proper care, doctors and nurses in public sector hospitals were garnering a cool 28 per cent of all the bribe money transacted in India in a year. Next to health care comes the power sector where power utility staff cream off 22 per cent of the proceeds of corruption.
However, the power sector can learn from railways. Computerisation and transparency in operations can help reduce corruption in the power sector.
The education sector comes third in ranking. Here, the main source of corruption is teachers forcing private tuition on students as a way of seeking extra income and helping students pass.
Finally, it is the tax administration. It secures a surprisingly low score in this survey with bribes taken by taxmen accounting for a mere 5 per cent of all bribes. But this counter-intuitive result could be the product of a respondent bias.