The index of middle class misery can be measured by adding the tax rate, the inflation rate, and the corruption rate. The last one is not discussed in open forums by experts since they are worried about the next round they need to face. The major source of irritation and corruption faced by the middle class is its interface with Government services.
There are two types of issues in this.
One is the information sharing by Government agencies about dos and don’ts and other is the service to be obtained.
The first is a major method by which corruption is sustained by the Government minions. For instance in any major city try to get a map of the city from the concerned Government agency about areas where construction is permitted – commercial/ residential and areas which are part of green zone – and you will be unsuccessful The power of officials come from non- clarity in regulations.
The second part is about bribing to get the services. Since information is scarce one need to bribe to get the appropriate service without violating Government procedures.
For instance, anyone who has travelled in trains in the past will recollect the ubiquitous ticket examiner who was the ultimate arbiter to provide seats or berths – at a price. I was told by a retired railway official that in those days recommendations to appoint a particular person as ticket examiner at major stations used to sometimes come from cabinet ministers in Delhi because it was a ‘lucrative’position. But after the computerization of rail bookings, the role of railway minions has become minimal since even wait- listed tickets are upgraded through the system.
The Bangalore Municipal Corporation has provided facilities to people to pay their house taxes using the internet.
You fill in the details of the area of the plot, built- in area, type of construction, etc, and the system shows the tax to be paid. You can pay through your credit card. Earlier, in order to pay the house tax, one needed to bribe officials.
India is one of the few countries where you pay bribes to pay your taxes to the government.
Retail corruption can be minimized by using technology In other words; relationship- based transactions are becoming rule- based. That is the role of technology. It makes individuals impersonal or simply a statistics – so that your position or power does not play any role in the transaction to be undertaken with the state. The name or position of the person does not matter as long as he has done his role in fulfilling the requirements of the ” rule” based system. The same can be attempted for caste certificates or land records. Or disbursals of gratis like old age pension or girl child benefits. Of course, rule- based technology has its limitations in dealing with wholesale corruption, as in defense contracts.
It is interesting that the IT biggies were not the ones who undertook the task of computerizing railway reservations.
It was done by CMC, which was then a public sector company. The IT biggies were looking at lucrative US and European markets. But the recession in the west altered the picture. Today we find Infosys involved with computerization of many aspects of income tax, and TCS with passport offices and Wipro with the Employees State Insurance Corporation. Hence technology can be a great ennobler in minimizing what we can call ” middle class interface” corruption. It will facilitate transparency and more importantly reduce the friction in Governance.
This imply that we need to look at technology alternatives – particularly computerization of many activities especially at state level in order to make it impersonal. The more impersonal it is made, the better for the middle class since formless government is prone to less corruption than one with a human form. The IT companies when they bid for projects in these areas can include the reduction in corruption as one of the major benefits of the projects. It can be monetized on two counts. One is the reduced amount of bribes paid by citizens to Government employees and the second is the reduction in leakage in disbursal of welfare etc funds from Government. Both of these can be and we feel should be monetized and counted in the benefits from the project of computerization. The Government should add it to project benefits over long period of time and compensate IT companies a part of it. This will go a long way in making computerization of Government/ people interface much faster/ smoother Of course questions will arise about other forms of corruption in giving massive Government contracts/ defence deals etc. For that we need a transparent regulatory framework and a speedy justice system to punish the crooks.