A systemic response would be to lift the bureaucratic burden on economic activity in the country. India ranked 132 among 183 countries the World Bank monitors on the ease of doing business. It takes 166 days to start a business, 181 days to get construction permits, 98 days to get electricity and 97 days to get property registered. In Singapore, which tops the rankings, the first three can be done in under a week and the last in a fortnight. Any initiative to tackle endemic corruption in the country must involve improving the way we go about regulating ourselves. Information technology not only acts as a wall between applicants and issuers, but also speeds up data processing. The evidence shows e-governance works in India. We need to roll it out faster.
Bribes offered voluntarily are widely different from those paid under duress. Devising a common deterrence for both may not be the way to go. Kaushik Basu, as chief economic adviser in the finance ministry, last year floated a radically new approach for the fight against corruption. He suggested sparing the giver if it was a harassment bribe, like those paid for driving licences after all formalities are complete. Mr Basu reasoned the law as it exists today induces the giver and taker of a bribe not to talk about it. If, however, the giver is let off, his interest diverges after paying a bribe and this could encourage whistle-blowers. The government will have to dip into traditional and novel methods for holistic deterrence. Consensual bribery needs tougher laws, but harassment bribes must be tackled more innovatively. A light hand on regulation with stricter policing can work on both the demand and supply of bribes.