Corruption in India Undermining Human Rights and Development

As the world observed the International Anti-Corruption day on December 9, 2008, India slipped further in the global corruption perception index released annually by corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI).

India has dipped from 72nd to the 85th slot, in a list of 180 countries. In India corruption is widely seen as contributing to poverty, stifling economic growth, debasing democracy, a midwife to terrorism, trafficking of women and threat to human security.

The strong correlation between corruption and poverty threatens to jeopardize the global fight against impoverishment and derail the UN Millennium Development Goals.

India’s integrity score in 2008 now stands at 3.4, down from 3.5 in 2007 and 3.3 in 2006. Unil last year, India shared the slot with China, but the latter has improved its score and image to 3.6, though it occupies the same slot as before which is at 72.

Among India’s neighbors, except Bhutan, with an impressive CPI of 5.2 and ranking of 45, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh have poor records. Corruption, however, remains a global phenomenon as nearly half the countries scored 3 or less points.

The Bribe Payers Index shows that India along with BRIC countries is among worst bribe payers while engaging in business abroad.

What is of concern is that wealthy countries are willing to play ball with diminishing efforts to honor commitment to end questionable methods of companies in acquiring and managing domestic and overseas business. 

The most corrupt in influential nations are sectors construction, real estate, property development, oil and gas, mining and public works companies.

There have been various attempts to put a figure to the dimension of corruption: government loss of $50 billion due to tax evasion; $10 billion due to delay in projects due to bureaucratic red tape; the former prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, said that for every rupee spent by the government for development, less than a tenth of the amount actually reaches the beneficiary, and this too is an exaggerated figure.

A recent survey suggests police officials across the country earn more than $400 million through bribes offered by truck drivers.

Earlier this month, the Veerappa Moily headed Administrative Reforms Commission described corruption as not only an ethical issue but also a primary reason behind hindering India’s growth and hurting the social services that are critical to the poor.

The Commission report has laid down recommendations that should ruffle bureaucrats, errant judges and power-at-any-cost politicians as it focuses on obliterating the misuse of power, monopoly and discretion without accountability and calls for special offence for ‘collusive bribery’, among many others efforts at reform..

Meanwhile, the India Corruption Study 2007, jointly conducted by NGOs TI- India and Centre for Media Studies, found that Below Poverty Line (BPL) households bribed nearly Rs 9 billion to officials to avail a total of 11 services that ranged from the police to state controlled public distribution system (PDS).

No state or service was found anywhere near ”zero corruption” level. There is a known mafia that controls tenders for railways, roads, power projects, electricity and property-development with any outside or new entrant into this closed field often met with brutal resistance.

The survey covered 108 districts across all 31 states of the country. Services included Police — termed as most corrupt, followed by Land Records/ Registration; Housing; Water Supply Service; NREGS; Forest; Electricity; Health; PDS; Banking and School Education (up to class XII).

TI Chairperson KS Tahiliani says that recent media images of wads of currency notes being waved in Indian Parliament due to allegations of political corruption and instances of high profile corruption in public life has soiled India’s image globally. 

TI uses a fairly credible methodology of ranking that involves utilization of a mathematical model sourced from reliable institutions such as Asian Development Bank, African Development Bank, Freedom House, Global Insight, Merchant International Group and Bertelsmann Transformation Index. 

Tahiliani, a former navy chief, further stressed that, "the lack of political will in facilitating the passage of the anti-corruption Lok Pal bill, Corrupt Public Servants (Forfeiture of Property) Bill and measures such as ratification of UNCAC (United Nations Convention against Corruption), in reining in police establishment notorious for corruption erodes the seriousness in eradicating corruption."

There have been efforts to root out corruption though there is a long way to go. A study on ‘Impact Assessment of e-Government projects’ by Prof. Subhash Bhatnagar of IIM (Ahmedabad) and Department of Information Technology, Government of India, says that computerization in various government departments have benefited citizens and resulted in direct cost savings, thus lowering corruption to an extent.

The adoption of Integrity Pact (IP) procedures in public contracting had possibly lowered India’s TI rating in 2006 and 2007.  IP procedures aim at greater transparency and integrity between buyers and sellers, eliminating external interventions and improving a sense of ethics. 

"While 28 state units have agreed to implement IP procedures, the government-nominated directors on boards of some firms have shown reluctance. Power sector is one area where not a single firm has introduced IP despite advisories by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC),"
Tahiliani said. 

Defense ministry, considered one of the most corrupt due to hush money involved in big-ticket arms deals, has adopted IP for all procurements of Rs 1 billion or more, while the cap for the ministry’s public sector enterprises is even lower at Rs 200 million or more. 

What needs to be appreciated is that robust mechanisms for weeding out corruption that menaces the certainty of the rule of law enforcement, democracy and human rights have to be promulgated at all levels.

Priyanka Bhardwaj is a journalist based in New Delhi. She can be reached at