Cleaning Up Indian Institutions, One Call at a Time

Petty corruption, seen as an everyday occurrence in India

“I paid this amount (Rs 600) as a fee to the Police for my wife’s passport Police verification”. This is simply one of 18,523 bribes (at the time of writing) on in India, and what is becoming a fairly normal occurrence within India. Bribery and corruption have long been considered to be one of the key impediments to growth in most developing countries. Current World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has even labeled corruption “Public enemy number one”. In particular, India has had a fairly bad reputation for corruption, ranked at 94 out of 177 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index in 2013, roughly the same level as Djibouti and Suriname. However, both crowdsourcing tools and new political parties in India are attempting to curb petty corruption and improve governance.

A large impetus behind this new-found interest is the surprise election of the Aam Aadmi (common man) party to the New Delhi city council. The main platform of the party was an anti-graft telephone line that would allow citizens to report graft and bribery along with providing information on obtaining evidence, effectively becoming “anti-corruption inspectors”, according to the incoming New Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kerjwal. As long as citizens provide hard evidence, the offending individual will be arrested by the anti-corruption branch. The helpline, launched on January 9th, received 3,904 calls by 3 pm, and had found at least 38 cases of serious corruption.

In civil society,, which is run by the group Janaagraha, has been running since 2012. The idea behind it is that by crowdsourcing and reporting incidents of petty corruption, people can shine a light on the main culprits of bribery. All of the complaints are given to the government to be further investigated. One of the issues against this crowdsourcing is that names are not given in the reports due to the possibility of infringing on libel laws. Also, the government may not necessarily take action against the corrupt individuals that are known, even if they are reported. There is a high likelihood of this could be only a palliative measure, but coupled with the surprise growth of the Aam Aadmi Party, things may change. Enough complaints about bribery during driving tests to acquire licenses in Bangalore allowed the administrator there to create the world’s first automated driving test. This change took the power out of the hands of capricious, subjective driving inspectors and transformed it into objective, observable results.

A map of India showing where bribes are reported, according to

However, there is a current thought by development economists who dispute the fact that corruption is a serious issue. Chris Blattman highlights a few arguments in how corruption can be considered to improve the efficiency of governments in some situations. Bribes can set the price and allocation of a service, effectively acting as a tax for and distributing scarce resources, such as the time of understaffed agencies. This also reduces the the need for the central government to collect revenue in some instances, as those resources are already routed through the “taxation” of bribery. This argument does not excuse the use of bribery in developing countries, and even Blattman highlights that most economists still believe that the losses from bribery and corruption are still higher than the benefits that may be gained.

On a more macro level, an analysis of 41 studies by Nauro Campos and Ralitza Dimova showed that 2/3 of them came to the conclusion that there was no correlation between corruption and growth. Furthermore, they showed that the effects of corruption were mitigated by the openness of trade and also the quality of institutions. Along the same lines, a working paper by Lant Pritchett, Michael Woolcock, and Matt Andrews at the Center for Global Development proposes that our thoughts of quickly stamping out corruption is flawed. Most governments helping fund anti-corruption efforts expect to see quick results. However, Pritchett et al finds that it can take corrupt societies massive amounts of time to reach median levels of governance. In India’s case, they find that it would take 29-116 years to reach the governance of Singapore, depending on the indicator used to measure governance. Although the new methods of reporting may improve the lives of Indians, it will take more time than anticipated.


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