Sun, Jul 03, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Corruption costing Indians billions

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Indians paid more than ?2.7 billion (US$4.8 billion) in bribes last year to receive public services, a study said on Friday, highlighting the systematic graft afflicting the country's fast-growing economy.

A report by the Center for Media Studies and backed by Transparency International, a global corruption watchdog, showed that corruption had become the rule and not the exception in India.

Of the 14,000 people interviewed in 20 states, more than 80 percent had paid a bribe to the police. A quarter had done so in government hospitals. In schools, ?500 million had been paid to get "admissions or certificates." The total value of "petty corruption" recorded in 11 government departments was ?2.7 billion.

"What we tried to highlight is the failure of the system for the common person in India," said K.R. Dharmadhikary of Transparency International.

"That you have to pay bribes to get the services that should be provided for you, such as electricity or water connections, is wrong," he added.

He said the total figure for corruption in India could be much higher as government funds which are stolen and the money used to bribe officials for contracts were not included.

The study also showed big regional variations. States such as Kerala and Himachal Pradesh, both with high literacy rates, were ranked as least corrupt. Bihar, where 35 million people live below the poverty line, was at the bottom of the list.

Political scientists said the problem of graft had worsened because of the emergence of "mafia politicians." Criminal elements make up a larger part of state assemblies than previously, particularly in northern India, where parties auction candidacies to the highest bidder.

"In a competition to get elected, you need muscle and money to win and then you need to find ways to pay back your election expenses," said Samuel Paul, director of the Public Affairs Center in Bangalore. "Just for a local assembly seat you can pay 130,000 pounds. One way of recouping such costs is petty corruption."

But the report said there were signs that the Indian establishment had woken up to the blight of bribery.

A number of anti-corruption groups have been using state right to information acts to scrutinize public projects for evidence of kickbacks or bribes.

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