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India’s Over-the-Internet Method of Handling Under-the-Table Deals

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization. 

By Maggie Callahan
February 28, 2019

For decades, India has been home to the largest number of individuals living in extreme poverty. In a country where 70.6 million live on less than $1.90 each day, any unnecessary expense is deeply felt. A bribe to a government official is an unnecessary expense but a seemingly necessary evil that most in India are familiar with. In 2018, 56 percent of those surveyed in India by Transparency International admitted to paying a bribe.

Because these bribes are so commonly executed by those in the government, this profitable form of corruption has largely gone unchallenged. Despite efforts undertaken by the government to punish those profiting off their public position, like the Prevention of Corruption Act of 1988, bribery and corruption remain a nuisance with some studies suggesting that bribery and corruption are more common today than ever before.

I Paid A Bribe, a website run by the Indian nonprofit organization Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy, seeks to change the culture of corruption in India’s government. This website is an interactive online tool. Participation is required for this website’s success, as it compiles anonymous user reports to track bribes throughout the country. Using these user reports, I Paid a Bribe creates a heat indexed map showing where corruption is most commonplace and the value of bribes sought in each of India’s regions.

This website is a successful tool for rectifying bribery. Manik Taneja was asked to pay 184 percent more than required by law to bring an American kayak through Indian customs. Using I Paid a Bribe, Taneja was able to facilitate filing his claim of corruption and liaise with the Joint Commissioner of Customs to investigate the matter.

Taneja is not alone in using I Paid A Bribe. The site has nearly 170,000 reports, and in the last year it was visited by over 15 million people. The widespread use of this internet platform has attracted government attention and action. A transport official, Bhaksar Rao, invited I Paid A Bribe officials to give a formal report of their findings to his staff. As a result, over 20 officials were cautioned.

Concurrently, I Paid A Bribe is running workshops and educational programs to de-normalize the culture of bribery and demystify the process of successfully filing and following up on claims. Surveys taken after these programs indicate that the acceptance of bribe culture and the willingness to pay these bribes is decreasing and the percentage of those willing to file claims is increasing. 

Although I Paid A Bribe has successfully engaged in outreach and education efforts to increase awareness of the service, the website has done little to pressure the government to make holistic changes to eradicate bribery, such as stricter punishments for those who take bribes and streamlining the process of making claims against officials. These governmental policies would help weaken the culture of bribery and further empower citizens to hold their government accountable.

I Paid A Bribe highlights the role the internet can play in making information and government processes more accessible and in disrupting a problematic, institutionalized culture of corruption. Participation ensures that the site is as beneficial as possible and will continue to challenge these under-the-table deals by bringing them to the public’s attention over the internet.

Author: Maggie Callahan is a master’s student of public diplomacy at Syracuse University and a graduate assistant for the Participedia Project at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. She holds a bachelor’s in political science and economics from Mercer University and has worked in Georgian and Moroccan nongovernmental organizations and the American government. Follow her on Twitter: @laissezmaggie

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