At a time when the world asks the question of India, “Will corruption slow growth or will growth slow corruption?” the country has begun using automation to fight corruption. The question is pertinent, of course, because India is playing an ever larger role in the world economy.
“Technology and automation have reduced the number of opportunities where people can ask for a bribe, whether it be ticket machines at railway stations or increasing automation in bidding for government contracts,” says Alexandra Wrage, president of TRACE, a non-profit group that advocates greater transparency on behalf of businesses.
India is still perceived as a corrupt country, according to the annual global index of corruption perceptions for 2007, released by the global corruption watchdog Transparency International. The 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) Report in 180 countries merits India’s rank at 72. CPI Report looks at perceptions of public sector corruption, scoring countries on a scale from zero to ten, with zero indicating high levels of perceived corruption and ten indicating low levels of perceived corruption. India was scored at 3.5 for 2007.
R.H. Tahiliani, head of the Indian wing of Transparency International, said that it was millions of India’s poor who suffered most, as they could not afford the bribes to get the food, fuel or work to which they are entitled.
“While many Indian businesses have started to take a stand against corruption, the government was still too tolerant,” Wrage said.
Costs of corruption
The costs of corruption are manifest in various parts of the economy. Inadequate infrastructure, of course, is widely recognized as a serious impediment to India’s advancement. Producing valuable goods is of limited utility if they cannot be transported in a timely fashion, for example. Transparency International estimates that Indian truckers pay something in the neighborhood of $5 billion annually in bribes to keep freight flowing.
However, high level of automation is implemented in various check posts in Indian states. It began sometime back when ten check posts on interstate highways entering the state of Gujarat in India were computerized with the objective of tightening the inspection of incoming trucks for overloading and validity of document. The project was implemented in nine months at a total cost of $14 million, of which construction of roads leading up to the check posts accounted for 70 percent of the expenditure. The essential components of computerization were:
• a video camera to capture registration numbers of incoming vehicles
• electronic weigh bridge for weighing truck to determine overload
• creation of a database of trucks.
Compared to the manual system where only 2 percent of the incoming trucks were flagged off the road for overloading, the current system enables a 100 percent check. The system was expected to reduce corruption by automating the fine levying process on overloaded trucks. There was a substantial increase in the fine collection over three years from $19 million to $50 million.
Another classic example is the Bhoomi-Computerization of land records, Karnataka, India. The Bhoomi project of online delivery of land records in Karnataka demonstrates the benefits of making government records more open so that citizens are empowered to challenge arbitrary action. It also illustrates how automation can be used to take discretion away from civil servants at operating levels. The land registration offices were highest office of corruption in India.
Even villagers now understand the benefits of computerization and automation. The village of Bellandur, 18 kilometres from Bangalore, is credited with being the first “gram panchayat,” or village-level administration, in the country to introduce e-governance. (Gram panchayat is local government body at the village level in India)
The gram panchayat covers as many as 10,000 people, and is spread over five villages. And bribery, which is common practice in official corridors across the country, has been significantly cut.
“There is very little scope for that here,” said K Jagannath, the elected president of the village, who initiated the information technology experiment. “Computerization has helped to provide an efficient administration. It has greatly reduced corruption and bureaucratic delays,” he said. In addition to speeding up tax collection and property transfer processes, the e-governance project has helped in recovering huge amounts of outstanding revenue.
Tiruvarur was declared the Pilot e-district by the Government of TamilNadu on June 13, 1999. The largely agrarian district which is located at 350 kilometers from Chennai had accomplished near total automation of the field level government functioning in Taluk (a town that serves as headquarters). Under the title ‘Power of e-governance’ the district conducted eight outdoor camps in different places where the Taluk office functioning was held in Marriage halls, proving a point that the district could run government offices literally anywhere, without moving any manual registers. “Times of India,” a leading newspaper in India rated Tiruvarur as “20 years ahead of rest of India.”
“Indians report a substantial reduction in the perceived level of corruption in a number of sectors,” according to the CPI Report. “Improvements encompass education, the legal system/judiciary, media, parliament/legislature and utilities.”
The country’s efforts to implement e-governance and a high degree of automation in various segments are now being noticed. Wrage says she sees cause for optimism in parts of South Asia. “Using India as an example, there is widespread dissatisfaction with the pace of increased transparency,” said Wrage. “And as a result of that, we are seeing progress.”
About the Author
Uday Lal Pai, firstname.lastname@example.org is a freelance journalist based in India.