Amidst all the scandals, leaks and allegations of corruption, the 2010 India Corruption Survey by Centre for Media Studies (CMS), an independent research agency that I head, offers a ray of hope. In recent years, there appears to be a decline in the extent of corruption involving citizens in their availing of basic public services.
The decline is skewed: it is significant in the case of certain public services like telephones, passports, electricity and rail reservations, but only marginal or negligible in the case of other services. The 2006 report of field surveys that CMS has been conducting since 2000, gave the first indication of this shift and subsequent surveys confirmed the trend.
There is an increasing feeling among the respondents that corruption among public services have declined (Figure 1). This is a significant finding at a time where more instances of corruption involving government and big business are commonly visible. The proportion of respondents who actually paid a bribe in the last year has also declined.
The decline in perception is a smaller change compared to the actual experience—possibly due to omnipresent media coverage about scandals. While the sector itself is being riddled with charges of corruption and exposure of scandals, the population has been enjoying more efficient and accessible services, especially in the case of telecommunications, electricity and irrigation. Some of this is in part due to better technology, and economic progress, the rest due to improved services.
The data suggest that corruption has been ‘kicked upstairs’. While media attention over the last few years has increased on corruption and related scams, their focus has been on higher end corruption involving large sums of money and the nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and business. While this certainly affects the citizen in the longer term, the data indicate that experience of corruption has relatively declined in the more quotidian aspects of life.
Perception vs experience
The CMS survey methodology has been developed over a decade and looks at two dimensions, perception, and actual experience of corruption. Our new “PEE model” has identified the big gap between Perception and the actual Experience in the practice of corruption.
Our model also attempts to quantify this ‘perception’ of corruption. Based on both perception and experience scores, it attempts to estimate the actual monetary value of the corruption. We believe that the large sample size helps ensure that this data is close to reality and usable.
Most other indices, including the global index by Transparency International, focus on perception. This tends to be misleading due to the increased prevalence of more active and often influential mass media.
Our findings suggest that efforts are also needed to bring down perception, which will, in turn further contribute to reducing corruption. Also, a more detailed state wise analysis hints that unless the trend is consolidated and accelerated, it could be momentary and misleading.
What might have contributed to containing corruption in some of these public services between 2005 and 2010? The important factors are: the opening up of the services for private participation breaking monopolies; competition and increased concern for market and the users; computerisation and the use of new communication technologies; use of research in developing responsive systems, concern for redressal mechanisms and a dynamic news media.
If corruption in the process of citizen availing basic public services could come down over a five year span, why can we not make all out efforts to achieve zero corruption in these services? Can we aim at bringing down the corruption in these public services, say to less than 10 percent by 2015 and less than 5 percent in some States and some public services by then?.
We can and we should.
N Bhaskara Rao is chairman of the Centre for Media Studies (CMS), New Delhi