Home Up About Us Members Activities FeedbackAction Plan for Minimising the Impact of Micro Level Corruption          



S.K. Sharma


Human beings and institutions are generally prone to one or the other form of corruption. This is a universal truism and only the degree and form of corruption may vary from society to society and from time to time. Corruption is thus a plant that grows in every soil. In India of the post- Independence era, the exhortations of the most charismatic political leaders and recommendations of the commissions and committees for fighting the menace of corruption have not made any dent on the situation. Instead, the malaise of corruption and its gangrenous impact on all segments of society has aggravated with every passing year.

This failure can only be attributed to the fact that all the precepts and practices for containing the corruption have failed to strike at the root causes of corruption. And it appears it is too late now because the hands that can strike at the roots are the very hands that have become corrupt. Was it not one of our illustrious Prime Ministers who tried to explain away corruption in India by saying it was a ‘global phenomenon’.



We have for long tried and failed to control corruption per se, leave alone

contain it. Instead of feeling despondent or even defeated, a stage has come when we should look for a very pragmatic approach towards indirectly tackling this obstinately unyielding and ever multiplying problem to minimise its impact on the common man. Our concern in India should not merely concentrate upon or confine itself to corruption or to the corrupt per se but focus more on neutralising the evil consequences of corruption. In other words, in addition to the existing anti-corruption laws and procedures to control or minimize corruption we should devise ways and means to minimize the impact of corruption on our daily life.

Today we have come to a pass where a common Indian in the street treats high level corruption scandals merely as a subject of gossip but is seriously concerned about the corruption that directly affects him adversely. A taxpayer very justifiably feels that he does not get adequate return on his tax from the Government by way of civic amenities and other basic facilities. Badly maintained roads, hopelessly inadequate street lights, totally missing sanitation, inadequate supply and poor quality of food grains at ration shops, scanty and ill-maintained public facilities arouse the public ire and are perceived as a related consequence of corruption by the effected masses. The ever-itching palms that one has to grease for even getting something legitimate done, or the ease with which something entirely illegitimate can be got done

with money power corrupts the public mind. This type of corruption vitiates the environment in which public comes to believe that nothing can be done except through money or influence or that anything can be done, howsoever wrong or illegal, through money. Corruption at micro level effects the public

mind much more than the corruption involved in large deals and projects.


The approach that this paper advocates for dealing with micro level corruption is that the concerned government and non-government organisations should devise effective measures to ensure that there is no quality degradation or service deficiency to the common man as a result of the prevalent corrupt practices. For example, if a road is to be made or streetlights are to be maintained, then the road shall be made to the specifications and streetlights shall be maintained fully irrespective of corruption involved in doing so. This should have a significant impact on the prevailing corruption syndrome among the public as corruption has become the most favorite topic of drawing room discussions or public gossip. More importantly this approach may obviate or at least minimize the sufferings of the public due to deficient and sub-standard public services and utilities. What is inevitable in this approach is that the corrupt elements may continue to make money (i.e. a project or service will cost more to the exchequer and ultimately to the taxpayer) but at least the public will get quality services and facilities. Even if it has an implication of higher taxes for the taxpayer it is worth trying. After all consider the prevalent costs of such services which provide inadequate or no benefits to the user. Corruption costs but degraded facilities and services cost much more in the long run. Let us pay more (on account of corruption) and get proper services at least. More taxes do not pinch as much as the inadequacies or absence of basic services and facilities. In any case imposition of higher taxes does not ipso facto imply corruption but inadequate or low class services do. This approach will bring a healthy effect on the present unhealthy corruption syndrome in the country.


Question now arises as to what effective measures can be adopted to obviate or minimize the ill effects of corruption on the ground. Corruption being a very vast subject, the main focus here is on micro-level corruption i.e. corruption in public services adversely affecting the society specially the common man. The measures proposed below are based on the following general assumptions:

(a)   Public functionaries have been proved to be highly amenable to undue and extraneous influences and are highly prone to venal practices

(b)   Elected leaders have lost their credibility and have rarely shown capacity or willingness to fight corruption among public functionaries. In fact they are a part of the problem, if not the problem.

  The Action Plan adopts the following two pronged approach to devise and implement measures to eliminate the impact of corruption on delivery of public services and utilities: 

(a)   people’s direct participation right from the stage of project formulation to implementation in respect of public utilities and services  

(b)   devising procedures which leave minimum or no discretion to the public   servants in their public dealings.

A. People’s Direct Participation

1.      Associate small groups of citizens with public projects, civic/ municipal services and other regulatory bodies. People selected should be willing and have the time and experience to contribute meaningfully. Active senior citizens, elected members of Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) and retired personnel with diverse experience in fields such as Finance, Science and Technology, Medical and Public Health, Public Administration and Management should be selected to be members of these groups. Working people should normally be avoided for obvious reasons. Elected legislators and corporaters are already associated with various Government Departments and municipal bodies and would continue to aid and support without becoming a part of these groups.        

2.      The association of these groups with concerned departments and municipalities should be formalized through a Government notification. Their role and responsibilities should be specified in detail and would be in the nature of ongoing monitoring of public services to safeguard the public interests. To make such Groups effective, they should be given powers which should resultantly lead to correction of a program or legal or administrative action against the erring contractors or suppliers. 

3.      Apart from monitoring of ongoing functions of the public bodies as indicated above, these groups will have periodic meetings with nominated senior officials for reviewing the planned programs in the light of the concerned public perceptions and needs.

4.      False/wrong complaints/reports by members of these groups should be treated the same way as filing of false complaint by a citizen before a public authority (Sec 182 IPC).

5.      Every public service should bring out a citizen’s charter giving to the public all possible information about its working to facilitate smooth public dealings. The peoples groups shall monitor the implementation of the citizens charters and ensure that these do not remain mere proforma promises. These groups will also be responsible for review of the citizens charters for rectification, pointing out deviations between practice and the precept and making citizens charters and the public services more user friendly. Such charters will enable the public and the proposed groups to ask for changes in the working procedures to suit public convenience as also to obviate loopholes leading to malpractices.

6.      The proposed groups will be associated with inquiries into complaints against public functionaries as also with the follow up action on the findings. These groups can take up the quantum, nature and trends of the complaints as well of the effectiveness of follow up action at the review meetings with the senior officers.       

 B. Reducing Discretion of the Public Dealing Officials           

It is a truism that the laws, rules and procedures operating in the Government and in public services are not in consonance with the changing times, technological developments and the rising aspirations of the people/end-users. According to Pai Panandiker, “ Perhaps, the incident of corruption is high in developing countries because most of them still persist with some form of Government control which puts discretionary power in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats. That enables misuse of public office.” Apart from failing to satisfy the needs of the users, most rules and procedures leave a lot of loopholes and gaps thereby opening up avenues of official intervention to make up for the inadequacies. This prompts people/users to persuade the authorities to exploit the inadequacies of laws and procedures in their favour and therein lie the consequent corrupt practices. No doubt discretion breeds corruption. The following steps are suggested to obviate discretion as an avenue of malpractices:

       1. Identify and review the existing rules, procedures and practices in the government departments and public services which are open to misuse or which impact the common man in everyday life, cause public harassment and loss to the exchequer. These reviews should be carried out with the following objectives. 

(a)   Revision should bring in utmost transparency in the operating procedures and provide for regularly updating the public with progress of ongoing projects, programs, activities and with decisions in regard to tender and purchase processes, issuance of license / permits/ approvals etc. 

(b)   Obviate executive discretion to the maximum possible extent by making the procedure cover all possible situations and exceptional circumstances. There is any number of examples of very simple, clear and elaborate procedures to follow in the developed countries in the execution of which there is very little or no scope for any discretion except in the policy making. 

(c)   Rationalisation of rules and procedures is a crying need. Mandatory attestation of some of the documents by a gazetted officer or a magistrate not below a certain level and not by a Notary Public is one of the many examples of such hackneyed rules. Institution of Notary Public Attestation should be strengthened and tightened rather than officially treating it as unreliable. It is shocking that some of the foreign missions in India do not accept documents      attested by any authority in India and insist on furnishing the original documents only. But copies are acceptable if attested by the equivalent of an Indian Notary Public in that country. Another example of thoughtless rules is the processing of an application for marriage certificate in Delhi. The applicant has to produce a witness who attended the marriage and who is a serving gazetted officer and who should carry his official stamp/seal with him during his appearance before the issuing authority.  For obtaining an International Driving Permit (IDP) the rules require production of valid visa stamped on the passport. There is no specific provision for dealing with a situation where no visa is      required to visit a foreign country such as Hong Kong.

     Many more examples of irrational and outdated rules and

2.      Induction of technology, specially information technology (IT), has greatly helped prevent and detect corrupt practices through obviating use of discretion at lower levels. Electronically operated entrance and exit doors through smart cards in factories has proved its efficacy in preventing fake attendance (improving effective attendance) and payment of wages strictly as per attendance with no scope for discretion. Similarly, integration of IT with the working procedures of an organization especially with its monitoring and control functions at all levels can prove to be an effective deterrent to the corrupt elements. Extensive computerisation of railway passenger reservation services has significantly reduced widely prevalent corrupt practices and obliterated the notoriety from which the Indian Railway was suffering in this respect. Computerisation of land records (in vernacular), adopted in a few states, has vast potentialities of plugging the loopholes in maintenance and updation of land revenue records and dissemination of information to the users. This is another area where corruption has been rampant of old because of vast scope of manipulation in records in a system shrouded in secrecy and discretion. Registration of FIRs at police stations (in urban areas for a start) could be  made an automatic process through single function specially designed  (simple and cheap) computers for this purpose. These are but a few examples of doing away with avoidable manual interventions and   discretion and discouraging consequent malpractices. 

3.      Corrupt practices related to recruitment, transfers and promotions in the public services is a major cause of the spread and perpetuation of corruption. The ever- increasing litigation in regard to these matters in courts of law is a measure of deteriorating situation. Effective steps have been taken by the Union and some State Public Service Commissions to reduce the personality and capability evaluation to the minimum possible limit leaving a very nominal margin for discretion for evaluation in the interview. Guidelines provided by law courts have also prompted this effort. However personnel management not falling within the purview of public service commissions is still shrouded in mystery and deeply stuck in the quagmire of varying corrupt practices. It is not surprising that courts and administrative tribunals are flooded with litigation. Even a rightful action is viewed suspiciously by the employees because of lack of transparency and openness. The following measures are suggested:                         

(a)   Quantification techniques should be extensively adopted in the procedures for evaluation of educational and professional qualifications, domain knowledge and experience of the candidates. Avery minimal scope (largely inconsequential) should be kept for discretionary credits primarily to offset any hardship caused by technicalities or rigidities of the quantification. This should apply to all stages of recruitment, promotions and selection for professional training or special assignments. 

(b)   Despite vastly prevalent and publicly known malpractices in the matter of transfers to highly lucrative posts/positions, surprisingly there are no guidelines or criteria laid down for posting employees to such posts. System of job description for each sensitive post and the conditions of eligibility for posting thereto is not in vogue at all and therefore the whole process is totally and unabashedly open to discretion and subjectivity of the powers that be. No wonder there is wholesale political interference and massive corruption in the matter of postings and transfers. It is time we lay down well thought out, scientific and transparent procedures governing this aspect of personnel management. Long time back there was a procedure in the Commonwealth of Australia (and may still be there) that all Government orders of transfer/ promotion were issued and implemented on provisional basis for a period of three months. During this period a government servant could represent against such orders before a designated committee. The orders were confirmed or rescinded in the light of the merits of the representations received. This gave a chance to the employees to point out violation of procedures and seek justice. But when there are no procedures, there is no violation and hence no accountability.     


Even after five and a half decades of independence, our country is still rated as one amongst the top most countries in terms of corruption indices. Laws can at best punish the corrupt but can not prevent corruption. More stringent laws and rules mean a higher rate for the corrupt because of higher levels of risk involved. As stated in the beginning, efforts have been made in all directions to overcome the menace of corruption with only one result: corruption has been on the increase, regardless. What has been lacking and not cogently tried is creation of strong public opinion against corruption. To quote Srivatsa Krishna, “Combating corruption in India must be done keeping in view the (prevailing) peculiar societal conditions. While on the one hand we boast of being a robust, functioning democracy, on the other, low level of public consciousness, literacy, civic awareness and the relative impotency of strong institutional public movements to voice causes which are otherwise forgotten, present a curious social fabric.”

It is towards the goal of generating public awareness and inculcating a spirit to fight against corruption rather than acquiesce in it that association of proposed public groups with the planners and implementers has been suggested here. Ultimately, there has to be a sustained program of mass movements against corruption and the corrupt at various levels. The public groups advocated here will be the harbingers of the mass movement against corruption and would voice the concerns of the public at the right place and at the right time. The Action Plan is not the end of the problem but just a beginning of a solution.  

 ~ E N D ~

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Last modified: January 20, 2004