The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, may have successfully managed to keep corruption, scams, and scandals at bay during the last three years, but, the global perception that corruption is widespread in India remains unchanged.
It can't be denied that the NDA's focus on rooting out corruption and its various anti-corruption drives and initiatives since it assumed power in May 2014 had come as a major relief for most Indians, given that the previous ten years of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance rule was marred by several scams and irregularities.
However, despite the present government's graft-free image, most of the developed countries still consider corruption to be a major obstacle to doing business in India.
So, is this perception entirely misplaced? Perhaps not. The fact of the matter is that the benefits of the measures that have been adopted by the Centre for rooting out corruption are yet to reach most of the states and have not percolated down to the ground level. In most states, including those under BJP rule, the habitual bribe seekers in government departments including the police, public utilities, government-run schools, colleges, hospitals and other institutions, are very much active. It is just that their modus operandi has changed with time, to avoid detection.
According to the India Corruption Report featured on the GAN Business Anti-Corruption portal, a collection of free anti-corruption compliance and risk management resources endorsed and sponsored by the European Commission and European governments, companies operating or planning to invest in India, faced high corruption risks. It said that, despite the government taking steps to counter corruption- red tape and bribery continued to be widespread. The portal pointed out that corruption was especially prevalent in the judiciary, police, public services and public procurement sectors, adding that integrity in all state bodies was lacking and facilitation payments and bribes persisted due to low levels of enforcement and monitoring.
Between July 2015 and January 2017, Transparency International, a global movement engaged in fighting corruption, carried out an extensive survey during which it spoke to 21,861 people in 16 countries, regions and territories across the Asia Pacific region to find out about their perceptions and experiences of corruption. The results of the survey released in a report titled 'People and Corruption: Asia Pacific – Global Corruption Barometer', revealed that 53 per cent people in India were of the opinion that the government was doing well at tackling corruption. However, the same survey also found that bribery was the highest in India and 69 per cent of the people who accessed public services had to pay a bribe. The findings suggested serious corruption risks when people tried to access certain basic services.
Among the poorest in the country, 73 per cent were found to have paid a bribe. In comparison, with greater power and influence, 55 per cent of the richest had paid a bribe, the survey said. In the Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index 2016, which measured the perceived levels of public sector corruption in 176 countries around the world on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean), India scored a dismal 40 and was ranked 79th, the same as China, Brazil and Belarus. Both Denmark and New Zealand were ranked first for scoring 90 each, while Somalia, with a score of just 10, was ranked last at 176th position.
Taking into account these surveys and reports, it may be said that India still has a long way to go before it can project itself as a corruption-free country. The question here is, should the government focus on changing the global perception that corruption is rampant in India or should it step up efforts and divert more resources towards wiping out corruption at the ground level?
Changing the global perception may not be that difficult and can be done through diplomatic channels, using an effective public relations strategy and engaging a globally powerful lobbying firm. Such an exercise, however, without actually bringing down the levels of corruption across the country, can prove to be counterproductive. On the other hand, the sincere efforts put in today with the objective of rooting out corruption completely will usher in real development in the country, benefiting every Indian in the long term.
To tackle corruption effectively and in order to ensure that the impact of its anti-corruption initiatives reaches both businesses as well as the common man, the Centre needs to immediately take three major steps. First, encourage and incentivize states to rely more upon technology, digitization and automation for delivering public services, thereby reducing human intervention to the minimum in the whole process. Second, push state governments to identify and punish those indulging in corruption inside the government machinery. And third, empower the common man to fight against corruption and ensure that those reporting cases of corruption through government channels do not face negative repercussions.
It needs to be acknowledged that India will be able to witness real progress only when corruption is severed from the roots, and for that, cosmetic measures won't suffice.(Views expressed are strictly personal.)