The Poorest in India Paid Over $220 Million in Bribes in 2007

On 28 June 2008, Transparency International India (TII) and the Centre for Media Studies (CMS) released a corruption study for the year 2007 with a focus on “BPL households”.

The study estimated that Rs. 8,830 million, in all, was paid as bribe by BPL households in the last one year, in availing 11 public services. It is estimated that the poorest households of our country paid Rs. 2,148 million to police as bribe.
From highlights of “TII-CMS India Corruption Study 2007

India has a lot of categories for her people, particularly those in the bottom strata of society. These categories are set up, presumably, to provide certain benefits to the marginalized population. (The controversial reservations system in higher education and government jobs is one example.) There is a National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) that is in place “to safeguard the interest of Backward Classes”. This is the most fungible of the categories, (unlike “Scheduled Castes” (SCs) and “Scheduled Tribes” (STs)) and the NCBC has published guidelines on how to be included in “Other Backward Classes” (OBCs) as well as a central list, by state, of the names of the castes, sub-castes, synonyms, and communities that currently make up OBCs.

Cutting across all these classifications is the category “Below Poverty Line” or BPL (most likely composed of OBCs, SCs and STs). The highlights of the TII-CMS study does not define BPL, but in the 1970’s the government of India (GOI) determined that you were poor if your total income fell below the cost of providing 2,400 calories of food per day per rural citizen and 2,100 calories per day per urban citizen. (Dilip D’Souza, writing in India Together, explores what this means in A thin Indian line.) In December 2005, this translated into Rs. 368 (US$ 8.56) per person per month for rural households and Rs. 559 (US$ 13.00) for urban households. That is less than Rs. 13 (US$ 0.29) and Rs. 19 (US$ 0.43) per day, far less than the US$ 1.00 a day used by the World Bank to measure extreme poverty. Mohan Guruswamy and Ronald Joseph Abraham, of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, call the official poverty line (currently 26% of the population) the “starvation line” in their report Redefining Poverty: A New Poverty Line for a New India because this amount is just enough to consume calories, without taking into account nutrition, or any other basic needs, such as drinking water, shelter, sanitation, clothing, and access to education and health care.

These are the people who had to pay an estimated Rs. 8,830 million (over US$ 220 million) in bribes last year to get access to basic and “need-based” services, including the very services specifically set up to alleviate their poverty, such as the Public Distribution System and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). (Corruption in the NREGS has been highlighted by the recent murders of two social activists conducting social audits of its implementation in the state of Jharkhand.)

The services and the amount paid in bribes for access to these services, are outlined below, in the order of amount paid. This number is not higher because many people could not pay bribes or did not have “contacts” or influence to get access to services. About a third of the BPL households did not have a “BPL Card” or “ration” card.

Police – Rs. 2,148 million (US$ 53.7 million).

Housing – Rs. 1,566 million (US$ 39.15 million).

Land Records/Registration – Rs. 1.234 million (US$ 30.85 million).

Electricity – Rs. 1,040 million (US$ 26 million).

Hospital – Rs. 870 million (US$ 21.75 million).

Banking – Rs. 831.7 million (US$ 20.8 million).

Public Distribution System – Rs. 458 million (US$ 11.45 million).  The Public Distribution System is a social security measure to distribute subsidized food grains and fuel to BPL households through “ration” shops.

Water supply – Rs. 240 million (US$ 6 million).

Forest – Rs. 240 million (US$ 6 million).  Forest services are primarily used by Scheduled Tribes who live in and around designated National Forests. (When a forest is declared a protected habitat, STs who live in the forest are removed and charged a fee to enter the forest in order to maintain their forest-based livelihood or to gather fuelwood.)

Education (up to Standard XII) – Rs. 120 million (US$ 3 million).

NREGS – Rs. 70 million (US$ 1.75 million). The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme guarantees one able-bodied member of a family 100 days of work at the prevailing agricultural rate or, if fixed by the Government, a minimum rate of Rs. 60 per day.  BPL households have had to pay bribes to register, get a “job card”, get selected, and get paid!

These numbers do not take into account the travel costs and lost wages of visiting an office more than three times and dealing with the absence or non-availability of staff, lengthy procedures and multiple form-filling.

The TII-CMS study recommends a four-pronged drive to reduce corruption:

  1. Simplification of procedures.
  2. Streamlining of information flows with the help of IT tools and e-governance initiatives.
  3. Reorientation of front-end staff to the sensitivities of dealing with the BPL households.
  4. Additional civil society activism.

I’m not holding my breath.  Besides a couple of headline grabbing, simplistic summaries of this report, I haven’t read any reports of outrage.  It’s business as usual.


1 Response to “The Poorest in India Paid Over $220 Million in Bribes in 2007”

  1. 1 Sophie May 10, 2009 at 5:13 pm

    “Cutting across all these classifications is the category “Below Poverty Line” or BPL (most likely composed of OBCs, SCs and STs).”

    —> Does it mean that “BPL” encompass only hindus and no other religions (christians, muslims,…).

    If you can help, I’m very grateful because I’m a little confused with all these indian classifications.


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