India uses tech to reduce bribes among police and government officials

Shilpa Kannan Apr 19, 2016
Delhi police personnel stand guard during a protest on Feb. 27. CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty Images

India uses tech to reduce bribes among police and government officials

Shilpa Kannan Apr 19, 2016
Delhi police personnel stand guard during a protest on Feb. 27. CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty Images

From our partners at BBC Business:

I’m sitting in the control room of Delhi Police vigilance department. There are computers and screens all around me.

What we’re watching is shocking — it’s a hazy mobile phone footage but it clearly shows a policeman in uniform taking money.

It’s been sent by a member of the general public using a special anti-corruption helpline set up by the department.

Corruption like this, whether it’s paying a bribe or needing insider contacts to get things done, has long been a way of life for many Indians. Called “chai – paani,” or “money for water and tea,” it’s usually small amounts of money taken by officials for doing something that should be free. But things might be improving.

In 2013, India was ranked 94th in the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, a system measuring public sector corruption with 1st place perceived as least corrupt. By 2015, the country had moved up to 76th.

Now, the police force is trying to clean up the system — starting with their own.

Using basic technology — people can use the messaging service WhatsApp — to file audio and video evidence of alleged wrongdoings. They’ve had thousands of responses.

Another big frustration for many Indians is getting official documents like passports. India issues over 12 million passports every year. It’s common that the process can only be done easily by knowing the right people or paying the right bribe. But technology may be changing this as well.

It used to take two months just to get an appointment, followed by an endless wait to get the actual passport issued. Now the process can take as little as 48 hours.

Partly that’s down to the technology automating the system, making things more streamlined. As a result computers have also stripped away the opportunities for under-the-table bribes too, according to Chief Passport Officer Muktesh Pardeshi.

“E-governance makes the service paperless, it makes the bureaucracy faceless and also the operation becomes cashless,” Pardeshi said. “Once you make the operation cashless, the whole corruption, etc., is controlled. Final thing, the management has access to a lot of data. We have a monitoring system, so we can look at how a passport office is working, even the behavior of certain officials, if there is an abnormal fluctuation in offices behavior we can track it.”

From fingerprint scanning to storing digital photos of citizens, it’s the kind of technology that’s well-established in many parts of the world.

Some still worry about the implications on privacy. The information is sent online to the local police station for verifying the details of the person.  But this project is now being looked at as role model for e-governance, according to Tanmoy Chakrabarti of Tata Consultancy Services, the company behind this technology upgrade.

“We built a service delivery platform that can be extrapolated to any government to citizen-facing services that the government has to offer,” Chakrabarti said. “It is going to reduce the cost of governance, going to reduce the time the citizen takes to be able to get services from the government and government will literally be 24-7 in the hands of the government. That’s the power of technology.”

These anti-corruption efforts could improve the country’s economy as well. A recent report from professional services firm Ernst and Young said that for corporate India, bribery and corruption issues will continue to be challenging in 2016 and will have a significant impact on their bottom line. With India looking desperately for outside investment, often from countries with very strict anti-bribery and corruption laws, more transparency can only help. And in the war on corruption, technology is looking like a potent weapon.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.