In 2009, according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI), India ranked 96th among 180 countries. In other words, it was the world’s 96th most corrupt country (Somalia). Overcoming corruption and bribery offers great scripts for movies, but often stamping it out on the ground is difficult. A few citizen-led attempts exist, like Lok Satta in Andhra Pradesh and Janaagraha in Bangalore. The latter has now taken its campaign online.
Online campaigns tend to be a bit of a joke in India (this author’s belief). Few have succeeded in their aims, whether it is just to raise awareness or prod the government to act. Several are content to post pious petitions on PetitionOnline.com, like the ‘civil society protest’ against the scrapping of Rohinton Mistry’s book from the Mumbai University syllabus. Somewhat more vigorous was Meter Jam, the campaign to make rickshaw and taxi drivers ‘behave’. Conflicting claims have been made about its success or failure; the second attempt was a clear failure. Tata Tea’s ‘Jaago Re‘ campaign made quite a splash, but depended heavily on the crutches of television advertising. The Pink Chaddi campaign of two years back is perhaps a better example, it generated a real physical response, and a complete humiliation of the Sri Ram Sene.
So it is with skepticism that one looks at IPAIDABRIBE.com. It is supposedly a website to help Indians fight back against corruption. The basic premise is that users can come and register incidents wherein they had to pay a bribe to get things done. They can also read about how others had to do the same, and also take a pledge to never pay bribes again.
Nevertheless, it seems to possess a few structural flaws, which are evident in its mission statement (http://ipaidabribe.com/content/read-before-you-post):
1. Janaagraha believes that corruption can be tackled if we collectively resolve to work together against it.
2. Ipaidabribe is not about pinpointing corrupt individuals, but about understanding the system that breeds corruption and thereby working to change this system.
3. Use the platform responsibly – do not post incorrect information, use it for defamatory purposes, use foul language, or pass comments that violate social sentiments
4. Under notification, the Indian Laws oblige us to divulge information we hold, by a legal investigating authority such as judicial courts
5. Do not divulge sensitive personal information, or names of individuals that have perpetrated the bribe
(Emphases are mine)
As is evident, the site does not name and shame bribe-takers. That seems a bit unfortunate. A few years ago, the Central Vigilance Commissioner had begun to post the name of officers who were under investigation, causing the named officials to scramble for cover. The process sadly stopped, replaced by an anodyne site full of downloadable forms.
Nevertheless, the IPAB site is quite popular. As of this day, 1358 entries have been posted by people, recording the bribes they paid. There’s even a section to report if you haven’t paid a bribe (with a 137 entries). It has a section describing its impact (http://www.ipaidabribe.com/sforms/ipab_impact) on the government. One documents a government official issuing show cause notices to 20 of his juniors (but since no bribe-taker was named, they can claim absence of evidence), another documents how the threat of posting a report on the site got an officer to behave (had he known he could not be named, might he have changed his behaviour?).
To be fair to the site, there is a good deal of gyan on laws, incidences, statistics etc which make the site useful. But as a campaign, it’s still got a long, long way to go.
As an anti-corruption campaign, Mumbai Traffic Police’s Facebook Page has instead done better. Ironically, it was not started with that in aim, but to get citizens to report other citizens guilty of violating traffic rules. Instead, it got flooded with pictures and reports of policement taking bribes. Because some of them were easily identified, they have had to face hot water in the department.
As broadband penetration progresses, and PR & advertising agencies see greater payoffs from the internet, one might get to see better designed and executed campaigns, that might change things on the ground (Jaago Re did have an impact of getting a few more net-savvy people to vote). Till then, the best we can do is click the ‘Like’ button on Facebook pages that promise to save tigers.