Top 12 Challenges Facing India in the Decades Ahead – 03 – Accountability & Corruption

According to Transparency International, in 2013, India ranks 94th out of 177 countries, with a score of 36, on the Corruption Perceptions Index which measures the perceived corruption in the public sector. In other words, while there are 83 countries that are perceived as more corrupt, there are 93 countries that are less corrupt. In comparison, the US is 19th with a score of 73, Canada and Australia tie for 9th with a score of 81, and New Zealand is seen as the least corrupt country with a score of 91. In other words, corruption is still quite bad. In comparison, China is 80th with a score of 40 and Brazil is 72nd with a score of 42. Corruption has become such an endemic feature of Indian administration and commercial life that in some parts of the country nothing moves in the intended direction until the palm of the deliverer is greased. (Dreze and Sen, An Uncertain Glory)

In addition, Bribery is a huge problem. In back to back studies in 2005 and 2008, Transparency International found that, despite efforts to curb the practice and corruption, the number of people who had first-hand experience with (and had to pay) bribes only dropped from 62% to 40%. In other words, 2 out of every 5 Indians had to fork over bribes to get a basic service that they were entitled to (such as getting a birth certificate or a passport) from a public official. Corruption is so bad that a NGO (non-governmental organization) by the name of 5th Pillar distributed over 1.3 Million zero rupee notes (modelled after the 50 rupee notes) between 2007 and 2011 in an effort to fight corruption.

Zero Rupees

As clearly stated by the Accountability Initiative, spawned by the Center for Policy Research, Dharam, Marg, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, there is surprisingly little regular, reliable and most importantly, accessible information on the implementation of service delivery programs in India today. And that’s being politically correct to the nth degree. Dreze and Sen are more accurate when they state that, in An Uncertain Glory, particular to India is the combination of insistence — for entirely plausible reasons — on having a large public sector, combined with a fairly comprehensive neglect of accountability in operating this large sector.

The issue of accountability is particularly important when discussing the many infrastructure issues in India. The neglect of both physical infrastructure (such as power, roads, water, sanitation, etc.) and social infrastructure (education, health care, opportunity for employment, etc.) is extremely widespread. One of the biggest examples failure of public accountability is the crippling power blackout of July, 2012 which plunged half of the country into darkness and earned India the reputation of the blackout nation. This is a prime example of the lack of accountability as even the central guardians of the Indian power strategy at the highest level face little pressure to get things right and are not tasked to take responsibility for the terrible state of power planning in India (where double digit percentages of the power generated is stolen and where significant amounts of generated power is wasted). Consider the story of the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and the Govind Ballabh Pant Sagar power plant in Uttar Pradesh as recounted by Dreze and Sen. When one of the authors visited the NTPC headquarters on a campus near the plant, he found that a large number of air conditioners were switched on full blas throughout the day, even in the deserted lobby of the guest house. Just outside the boundary walls of the campus, people from the Dom community, working as ‘sweepers’ for the NTPC for twenty five years, live in shacks without any electricity. When asked why they tolerate the situation, they said they feared they would lose their jobs if they complained about their predicament.

It is the lack of accountability that allows corruption, and bribery, to continue to flourish. Corruption flourishes in informational darkness. Until there is more transparency, information accessibility, and accountability in India, it will continue to flourish. This lack of accountability combined with a general belief that certain kinds of bribery and corruption are standard behaviour that is to be expected is posing huge problems for India and limiting its progress. If there was less corruption, there would not only be more accountability, but more money available to address some of the serious physical and social infrastructure problems that we addressed in previous posts.