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India's Death By A Thousand Paper Cuts

Despite growing dissatisfaction with the Indian bureaucracy’s culture of bribery, attempts to overcome it only reveal how deep it runs. The NYT’s India Ink continues its commendably rich and detailed India coverage with a story that helps Americans understand just what is wrong:

Waiting at any government office is usually a hassle – lines are long and move slowly, and layers of paperwork slow down the process because many offices are not fully computerized. Because of these delays, an entire industry of middlemen has arisen to slog through the process for people who believe they don’t have the time to do it themselves. […]

In some government offices, a middleman might charge fees of more than 10 times the cost of the actual service and use a portion of those fees to bribe officials, in exchange for preferential treatment. Paying a middleman to stand in line for you isn’t illegal, but it is illegal for a middleman to bribe an official. Relying on a middleman makes it more difficult for other citizens who can’t afford one to get the services they need promptly.

Anti-corruption experts say agents regularly break the law.

Problems arise because most agents are unauthorized, said Shri. K. Subramanyam, the director general of Maharashtra state’s anti-corruption bureau. These unauthorized agents “take extra money from the public and they pay off passport office or the RTO [Regional Transport Office, which issues drivers licenses] in the name of expediting the process, and that is where corruption starts,” he said.

Venal, arrogant and often incompetent bureaucrats and functionaries testify to the lack of accountability and the poor organization of India’s administrative infrastructure.  In many cases public sector salaries are so low in some positions that without bribery the officeholders could not make ends meet.  Like many government bureaucracies around the world, India’s government was designed to create patronage jobs rather than to work efficiently.

Many politicians (to say nothing of government workers) will fight tenaciously and cleverly against change.  We will be watching to see whether the anti-corruption movement has the stamina to stay in this fight for the long term.

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  • Kenny

    Americans understand why there is corruption in India. It’s because it’s a Third World country.

    Perhaps people are a bit disappointed in this given that India had many years to learn the rudiments of civilization during their colonial period, but it is what it is.

  • carvaka

    ” India had many years to learn the rudiments of civilization during their colonial period”


    it seems “white man’s burden” theory is yet to pass it’s sale by date in west.

  • PacRim Jim

    India might become the world’s first all-government state, with no private sector to speak of.

  • Charles Brown

    And the British ran the entire sub-continent with a thousand.

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