Ashok Malhotra, even from behind the bars, would have been really amused to read the latest report of Transparency International. "A few counties, most notably India'" the Report went on, "managed to bootstrap themselves out of the truly corrupt group". In the corruption perception index (CPI) we scored 3.3 in 2006, up from 2.9 a year back. That is undoubtedly encouraging.
Corruption comes from three sources. First, it erupts when the market is not allowed to function. Until recently this was a major source of corruption. The second is public services including police, judiciary, land administration, education, and so on. The third which is also the most intractable is corruption at the political level.
Until 1991 the market remained replaced by controls and regulations. That gave rise to a scarcity economy in which corruption thrived. Every commodity right from cars to coal the production and prices of which were controlled became a source of corruption. In 1991 most of these controls were knocked off. Industrial licensing which restricted production capacity, price controls which left unsatisfied demand, import controls which put foreign goods at a premium, exchange control which kept the rupee artificially overvalued, and so on had made corruption a way of life from which the country now finds it difficult to extricate itself. With marketisation, at least one source of corruption has been largely eliminated.
Corruption that is still confronted by the common citizen is at public services level. A survey made last year by Transparency International revealed that in India police top in corruption followed by lower judiciary and land administration. The common citizens paid Rs.21,068 crores by way of bribes. Kerala was the least corrupt; it is Bihar and J & K where corruption was most rampant.
Corruption at the public services level is hard to crack when officials enjoy discretionary powers but has been reduced to some extent due to the introduction of e-governance and of the Right To Information Act (RTI). A lot more improvement can be made with greater transparency in operations and accessibility of the relevant information through the internet. Such measures would have made it possible to detect the recent Malhotra slum scam much earlier or prevented it altogether.
Corruption at the political level could not be eradicated even in the most industrialised countries. In democratic regimes elections cost; and an extra crore of rupees generally gives a contestant an added advantage over his rival. Possibly State funding of political parties can reduce the incidence of corruption but cannot eliminate it altogether.
That Transparency International which has been indexing corruption the world over should take India out of the most corrupt group is encouraging. This improvement may be due to increase in incomes and greater transparency in government. That by itself is no satisfaction. We still rank 74th among 158 countries. It is therefore important to pursue administrative reforms more vigorously, enforce greater transparency in public offices and bring the guilty to book without delay.
(The writer is president, RPG Foundation)