Corruption surveys don't shock us anymore in our cynical times. But when Janagraha, a Bangalore-based NGO, put a figure to the bribes paid by an average resident, it did sound astounding. The voluntary group that runs ipaidabribe.com collated the amount paid in bribe by those who reported it on their website. It turned out that Delhi alone paid R 4.3 crore in bribes in the last three years.
According to the study released last week, an average Delhi resident paid anything between Rs. 10 and Rs. 1 lakh. From getting away with traffic violations to ensuring favourable police verification report for a passport, the trappings were everywhere. The heftiest bribes were, however, paid for suitable court judgments, land conversion, getting trade licences, and custom clearance for imported goods at the airport.
'Chai-paani', a euphemism for a bribe, is a common monetary demand in return for public services. It is a convenient, if not often the only way, to get things done or get around. You could be paying willingly or under duress. After all, who would want to cancel plans to go abroad for higher studies or an important business trip by holding back Rs. 500 a cop asks for the mandatory address verification for issuing a passport? Or deny oneself home food by not paying off a gas agency for an LPG connection? Then there are bribes paid indirectly. An auto-rickshaw driver or a street vendor may charge you more because he has to factor in the daily 'hafta' he pays to a cop, a transport department babu, or a civic inspector.
Lately, there have been efforts to introduce transparency. For 116 public services such as issuance of ration card, caste certificates, electricity and water connections, vendor registration, trade licences, etc., the Delhi government introduced the Delhi (Right to Citizen to Time Bound Delivery of Services) Act through online monitoring or eSLA in 2011. The legislation gives time-lines for delivery of services and for any delay a fine is imposed on the relevant officer. The penalty ranges from Rs. 10 to Rs. 200 a day.
For motor vehicle licences and property registration, once known as the most corrupt departments, now one can seek an appointment online. This cuts down queues and dependence on touts. To stop an interface with its staff who may ask for a bribe to hand over a licence, the department now delivers it at the applicant's home. Delhi Police also recently introduced e-challan that makes it possible to pay fines online.
However, an evaluation of the e-SLA by the Management Development Institute, Gurgaon, (quoted in a paper by Observer Research Foundation) found it to be a close-door operation. There was no feedback system in place. Figures on number of applications, pendency, disposal rate, comparative performances of departments, etc., were accessible only to government officials.
While some of the services may now be out of the bribery ambit, bureaucratic and petty corruption is still going strong in other areas. Patchy law enforcement means officials continue to be on the take when it comes to imposing fines and penalties and allowing illegality in construction of buildings, operating businesses and granting various other Sarkari approvals for a "payment".
Although there are vigilance departments for every government department, citizens don't easily trust just another bureaucrat to get them justice. Often, we pay bribes because it is an easy option.
Sometimes, we pay bribes to hide illegality. In the process, it seems that we have stopped questioning the practice. Although there were delays in delivering services under the e-SLA, not a single person in Delhi sought compensation, leaving the government to claim that the system is a 100% success.