Notion of corruption

Written by Sharad Raghavan | Updated: Apr 30 2011, 15:59pm hrs
Fewer people in rural India thought that corruption has increased in 2010 compared to 2005, even though the actual incidence of corruption in specific services went up in that period, according to the India Corruption Study: 2010 conducted by Centre for Media Studies. Surveying 9,960 rural households in 12 states, the study found that in 2010, 45% of the survey sample believed that corruption had increased, down from 70% in 2005. Optimistically, 29% in 2010 believed that corruption had decreased, compared to 6% in 2005. Overall, the percentage of households that paid a bribe has decreased by exactly half (from 56% to 28%) compared to the result of the survey in 2005.

However, if a more narrow view is taken, the picture doesnt come out as rosy. The survey studied specific government services (the public distribution system, water supply, school and hospital) and the perception and experience of corruption the rural population had with them. For PDS, the perception of corruption has decreased to 42%, from 68% in 2005. In school services, this number has decreased by half, from 70% in 2005 to 35%. In water supply, the perception of corruption has decreased from 64% in 2005 to 41% in 2010. Perception of corruption in hospital services saw a 26% fall, from 65% in 2005 to 39% in 2010. This is strange, as the actual incidence of corruption has increased in three out of four of these areas. In PDS, the actual incidence of corruption has gone up to 22%, from 8% in 2005. Corruption in school services has gone up marginally, to 15%, from 13% in 2005. The water supply services fared poorly, too, with corruption incidences increasing from 7% in 2005 to 16% in 2010. The hospital sector was the only one where corruption declined, to 19%, from 21% in 2005. So, what this implies is that there is a convergence between the rural publics perception of corruption and their actual experience of corruption. Earlier, the perception was that corruption was rampant in all four of these sectors, even though the actual incidence was far below this figure. Now, it seems that public perception of corruption is becoming more accurate, moderating itself, while the actual incidence of corruption rises to meet it.

A more detailed analysis of each sector from the report is given below:

Public Distribution System

The study says that less than half (49.3%) of the rural households interacted with the PDS services in the last year, down 10 percentage points from 2005. According to the study, the government says that the off-take of food grains is around 90% of the total allocation. One of these figures is inaccurate. How can 90% of the allocated food grains be bought from the fair price shops if less than 50% of the rural households actually went to them This, obviously points to corruption. Either it is a misappropriation of the food grains meant for the poor, or a fudging of records for some other purpose.

Specific to the PDS, 41.5% of the survey population thought that corruption had increased in the sector, down from 67.9% in 2005. Almost 35% of the population thought that corruption had remained the same, up from 21% in 2005. Surprisingly, given that the actual incidence of corruption increased by 14%, a large section of the population (23.7%) believed that corruption had decreased, compared to 5.3% in 2005. In Bihar, 20% of the population believed corruption had decreased compared to none in 2005.

Overall, around 29% of the population was asked to pay a bribe in the PDS, according to the study, and reasons for paying the bribes were varied (see table). The average bribe amount in PDS was R145, with the total bribe amount across 12 states was R156.80 crore.

School services

According to the study, 36.4% of the surveyed population interacted with the school system. Interestingly, this number was around 50% for Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Kerala.

It seems the school services sector is performing well, corruption wise, in the public view. Only 35.4% of the population felt that corruption had increased, down from 70% in 2005. Many more people (26.4%) felt that corruption had decreased in 2010, than in 2005, for which the figure was 6.3%. Thirty eight per cent of the population felt that corruption had remained the same, compared to 21.4% in 2005. Twenty per cent of the population was asked to pay bribes relating to the school system, with the largest number in Maharashtra, where 35.2% of the population was asked to pay a bribe. The average bribe amount in this sector was R186, with the total bribe amount at R101.7 crore

Water supply services

Only 29.7% of the survey population said that they interacted with the government water supply services, including drinking water and irrigation services. A low figure, but it seems massive compared to the figure for 2005 that the study reports8%.

Around 40% of the population that interacted with government water supply services felt that corruption in the sector had increased. Twenty one per cent of the population felt that corruption had decreased. According to the study, there was no change in these figures from those obtained in 2005. Across the 12 states, the average percentage of households that were asked to pay a bribe was 21%. Bihar was the worst performer in this sector, with 38% of the population being asked for a bribe.

The average bribe amount paid for water services was the most of all the four sectors, at R207. The total bribe amount across 12 states was R83.3 crore.

Hospital Services

Around 46% of the rural population interacted with the government hospital services, down from around 60% in 2005. This decline could be due to increasing dissatisfaction with the services at the government hospitals. States like Bihar (62%), Kerala (61%), Tripura (60%) and Andhra Pradesh (57%) performed well above average.

In the hospital sector, the perception of an increase in corruption was most in Bihar (67.2%), with the 12-state average being 38.9%, down from 65.3% in 2005. Twenty one per cent of the population felt that corruption had decreased, up from 5.5% in 2005. Contrast these figures to the actual incidence of corruption. Almost 24% of the population was asked to pay a bribe relating to hospital services, with the most bribes being paid for medicines. The average bribe amount paid in this sector was R153. The total bribe amount across 12 states was R130 crore.

While the prevailing perception is that corruption has decreased, the reality is that this perception is only moderating itself to meet the actual amount of corruption, which, in fact, is mostly rising.