If one were to choose an issue that overshadowed almost everything else in 2011, it was corruption. While the Arab world saw protests against a string of corrupt and self-serving leaders, India was rocked by the demands for a strong anti-corruption legislation, the Lokpal Bill. Since corruption is such an emotive issue, it is likely to top the news chart this year too. And who would lead the fight against it in India? The youth - at least, that is what many hope. But here is a surprising revelation: The Hindustan Times 2012 Youth Survey says that over two-fifths (42%) of young Indians have paid a bribe at least once in their lives; nearly 50% says that it is a necessary evil and only 42% admit that they would feel ashamed if they had to bribe.
So was all that hullaballoo with young people thronging Anna Hazare's protest site for a strong Lokpal Bill all sound and no fury? To some extent, the mood of the youth of the nation indicates that though they feel strongly against corruption as an issue, they have come to terms with 'harassment bribes' - forced payments for say getting a passport or a licence. While such bribes only perpetuate the existing faulty system, sometimes there is peer pressure to 'get things done'. To end such 'harassment bribes', there is a need to reduce the interface between the public and the government officials drastically because officials often use their monopoly and discretionary authority to harass citizens. This 'walling' of public servants can be done only through technology. But despite India's technological progress, which started in the late-1980s, there is still enough room left for the babu to make a fast buck. For examples of how technology can weed out corruption, just look at the e-ticketing system for train reservations or the e-filing of tax returns. Yes, it is true that only those with computer access have been able to reap the benefits, but, by and large, it has weeded out the touts and babus who together manipulated the system.
But even as we speak of government corruption, let us also not overlook the other important issue of private sector corruption. It is time this is also discussed threadbare because sometime the private sector facilitates corrupt activities. Moreover, we should stop blaming our culture and looking at corruption through the morality lens, we need to focus much more on technology usage and undertake deep systemic reforms, reduce monopolies, discretion and increase accountability. But most people go in for quick fixes. This means that long-term changes are often swept under the carpet.