Coruption in India

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COMMENTARY

Corruption in India
A Quantitative Analysis
Vani K Borooah

This article represents one of the first attempts at quantifying the level of corruption in India. This has been made possible by the unique website ipaidabribe.com which invites people who paid a bribe to record their experience. By choosing a specific issue – identity verification by a police officer prior to issuing a passport – it was able to focus on a “harassment” bribe, that is a bribe paid for something a person was legally entitled to.

1 Introduction

T

I am grateful to Tiziana O’Hara for research assistance. Vani K Borooah (VK.Borooah@ulster.ac.uk.) is at the School of Economics, University of Ulster, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom. Economic & Political Weekly EPW

he fact that the level of corruption in India has become a matter of grave concern needs little justification. Underlying cases of spectacular corruption like the Commonwealth Games and 2G scams are myriad instances where bribes of various sizes are paid to obtain a variety of favours. In analysing such bribes it is useful to draw a distinction between “harassment” bribes – where one pays a bribe to receive what one is legally entitled to – and “non-harassment bribes” – where one pays a bribe for a favour to which one is not entitled (Basu 2011, Dasgupta 2009, Bardhan 1997). So, for example, paying a tax inspector a bribe to receive an income tax refund to which one was entitled would constitute a harassment bribe, while paying a policeman to ignore a traffic offence would constitute a non-harassment bribe. A particularly egregious example of harassment bribes is one paid for establishing one’s identity in order to obtain a passport (hereafter, “passport verification” bribes). Egregious because the demand for such payment violates our most intimate possession – our identity – and over which we have, or should have, absolute control. The process of obtaining a passport in India can be long and, sometimes, fraught. First, there is the “help” offered by touts as soon as one arrives at the passport office – Rs 15 for a form, Rs 4,500 for additional pages, Rs 6,000 for a new passport. The alternative to refusing such offers of help is to wait endlessly in long queues and the sheer volume of business – about 1,500 applications daily at New Delhi’s regional passport office – provides fertile ground for touts to flourish (“At the Passport Office, Touts Have ‘Tatkal’, Scheme”, Times of India, 17 April 2011, p 8). After the application has been lodged the police pay a visit to the applicant’s place

to verify his/her identity both directly and through neighbours. A “passport verification” bribe is paid to the police officer concerned in order to ensure that the verification is completed without “difficulty”. The website www.ipaidabribe.com (created by the non-profit organisation, Janaagraha) provides a forum to those who have paid bribes to record their experience and the bribe paid, while preserving their (and the beneficiaries) anonymity. While bribes were paid to a variety of agencies (police, income tax, excise and customs) for a variety of reasons, the most well-defined purpose was that of passport verification and, indeed, of the 8,544 cases of bribery reported till the beginning of May 2011, 1,356 cases (16%) related to passport verification cases. A typical story from the website runs as follows: [The] police visited me and asked for my verification documents. On producing all the documents the policeman asked me to produce documents for my child. When everything was verified he questioned ‘what is the proof that my child is mine’? This was so ridiculous that my wife came [sic] to tears.

The matter was satisfactorily resolved after he paid a Rs 2,000 bribe. 2 Data and Results Based on the information provided in the Janaagraha website on the 1,011 cases in which bribes were paid for passport verification (up to April 2011) we created a data set consisting of the amount of the passport...
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