The report by Transparency International that India has the highest bribery rate in Asia and the most number of people who use personal connections to access public services deserves attention even as it may not come as a surprise. The corruption watchdog also says that complicated bureaucratic processes and unclear regulatory frameworks force citizens to access basic services through networks of familiarity and petty corruption. The difficulty of getting work done in the corridors of power has always been acknowledged, stuck as it gets in red tape and procedural wrangles. Terms like sifarish and pairavi have become part of common parlance and an acknowledgement of the problems that people have to face.
Successive governments have battled corruption charges, right from the Mundhra scandal during the time of Jawaharlal Nehru. Rajiv Gandhi, who as the PM, had to deal with the Bofors scam, remarked that of every rupee spent on welfare schemes, only 15 paise reach the common man, an observation that the Supreme Court reiterated in its Aadhaar decision.
The UPA government also faced a string of corruption charges which helped the Anna Hazare movement in creating an atmosphere against it along with the BJP’s claims of providing a corruption-free government. But the BJP-led NDA government’s move like demonetisation to counter corruption and unearth black money only resulted in hardships for the common man, and the Covid-19 pandemic has added to the economic downturn. The Aadhaar, Jan Dhan and mobile payment schemes launched by the government to reduce intermediaries have not been without problems like identifying the right beneficiary. In fact, our government and our society are still grappling with procedural bottlenecks that breed middlemen. During the Anna Hazare movement, it was demanded that the government check corruption, rein in bureaucracy and support farmers. Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of the movement. Arvind Kejriwal, Hazare’s one-time lieutenant and now the Delhi CM, has seen his ministers battle charges of corruption, while the Modi government was also at the receiving end over the Rafale deal. It’s time to take stock.