Plus & Minus

“A weekly column: Plus&Minus will be published in Hindustan Times, Jaipur Live. This will speak to the ordinary reader on contemporary economic issues in a simple format”.

    Need for ‘Stop Bribes Corruption Ltd’
    Hindustan Times Jaipur Live, November 23, 2009

By Pradeep S Mehta

Not so long ago I went to buy a ticket from the ticket window at the Ahmedabad Railway station to travel to Baroda, a journey of about two hours. The next fast train was due in a very short time and I found a longish queue at the counter with the usual crowd milling around the ticket window. I had thought that due to computerisation the time taken would be little. Alas, that was not so.

Behold! I was approached by a tout who for a small fee promised to get me the ticket in no time. He did deliver after I paid him a Rs 50 premium. He went inside the ticket window and returned with the ticket. The tout could do it, because he was hand in glove with the railway babus.

The government at all levels is adopting information technology in the hope of improving governance. The efforts are laudable. But our systems are so bad that all efforts can be circumvented in order to perpetuate the system which sustains corruption.

For instance, a recent study by the IIM, Kolkata across 12 states in India found that the average bribe to obtain a land record statement has come down marginally from Rs105 to Rs 89 after computerisation of land records.

“Putting IT hardware, camera, scanner and printer reduces the manual work done and thus the delivery time. But, the discretion of an officer to deny or accept an application is still there. If that function can be transferred to a computer, it can only then reduce corruption” says Prof Subhash Bhatnagar of IIM, who conducted the study.

I had the same experience when I went to register a flat at the Jaipur collectorate where every one has to pay a fixed percentage of the value of the property to the faceless babus behind the counter.

The IIM study found the average commission paid in property-related transactions is around Rs 2,550 per transaction. Average bribes at property and transport departments remained at about Rs 1080 and Rs 180 respectively. Reduction in bribes as a result of computerisation was almost nil in most states, including Rajasthan.

A Delhi-based lawyer and social entrepreneur, Shaffi Mather is in the process of starting a company that would help citizens fight the bribe menace. Says Mather, “If your home is infested with insects, you can call for pest control services; or if you have a security threat, you can engage guards. But if someone asks for a bribe, you have no body to help you. That is why I thought of offering this service”.

Mather applied for a name for the company: Stop Bribes and Prevent Corruption Ltd, but you can very well guess that he got a response from the Registrar of Companies to modify the name. In any case he is going ahead with the project and will soon start operations. We need more such enterprises around the country.

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