If there is any hope for changing these attitudes, it probably rests with India’s prosperous and fast-growing tech sector, where companies and employees play more by global than Indian rules, and the technology holds promise of bringing more honesty and transparency to governance.
At IPaidaBribe.com, Indians can look up the going rate for getting a daughter into college or winning a job transfer from the government-run hospital system, all based on the self-reported experience of the site’s users. Cities are even ranked by the size of the average bribe paid there.
Technology for ‘intractable’ issues
Nadan Nilekani, a founder of Infosys, is heading a fascinating and potentially game-changing project to reduce the rampant fraud in the administration of social programs for the poor. The Unique Identification Authority aims to get 600 million Indians to register their fingerprints and retina scans over the next three years that can be used to ensure that welfare payments, farm subsidies and scholarships wind up only in bank accounts of the people for whom they are intended. The biometric database will be 10 times larger than any in existence, and Nilekani says that gathering it and making it work represents a considerable political and technological challenge. At a total cost of $1.2 billion, or $2 per enrollee, it holds the prospect of eliminating billions of dollars worth of fraud every year.
“We will use the most modern technology to solve the most intractable problems,” said the rupee-a-day billionaire who reports to work each day at a drab government office building in Delhi.
Meanwhile, the state of Gujurat is using the Internet to bring transparency to the billions of dollars in infrastructure investments that it is making each year, so everyone can see what is being spent and what is being approved. Residents will be able to keep track of how much the government is paying to individual landowners to acquire and assemble the land necessary to locate new industrial plants and develop new cities, and how the payments are calculated.
Indeed, under the direction of its popular and apparently incorruptible chief minister, Narendra Modi, Gujurat’s government may have taken the lead in wiping out big-ticket bribery. That, anyway, is the testimony of business executives I spoke with, along with many others who line up to sing Modi’s praises at the regularly convened “Vibrant Gujurat” conference, where more than $450 billion in private investments were announced in January. With an economy that is growing at twice the rate of some other states, Gujurat may finally be providing Indians with the hard evidence of what their culture of corruption is costing them.
Among many in the business and governmental elite, there is a belief that India is approaching something of an inflection point, an awareness that its impressive growth cannot continue much longer unless it reforms its governance, its business culture and its institutional arrangements.
“We can’t take 20 years to deal with our inability to shed our feudal past and embrace political and economic relationships that are governed by the rule of law,” says Sanjeev Sanyal, a former bank economist who now writes about the environment and urban development. “This is the crisis of India.”