Leveraging Technology For Prevention of Corruption

Legendary American film director, Godfrey Reggio once said, “It’s not that we use technology, we live technology.” Technology has become an integral part of our lives by bringing with it a vast number of benefits, making us more creative, productive, and innovative. This productivity and innovation along with the technologically boosted creativity of humans have proven to be extremely helpful for our nation in tackling an issue that plagued our nation ever since it became independent, and i.e. Corruption.

Rampant corruption in India has damaged the Economy and further stunted its development for decades, thereby preventing our nation from reaching new heights. It isn’t something new to our country but has existed for a very long time. Even the great Indian teacher and Minister Kautilya once remarked in his Political treatise Arthashahtra- “It is as difficult to prevent a government servant from corruption as a fish from drinking water”. Hence, we can interpret from this how corruption must’ve menaced ancient India as it is doing now.

A study conducted by Transparency International in 2005 recorded that more than 62% of Indians had at some point or another paid a bribe to a public official to get a job done. In 2008, another report showed that about 50% of Indians had first-hand experience of paying bribes or using contacts to get services performed by public offices.

However, due to the advent of technology and the government’s concentrated efforts and enormous investments, the nation is successfully fighting and getting rid of this evil. The progress made by our nation is reflected in its rankings in the 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index which ranked the country 80th place out of 180, reflecting a steady decline in the perception of corruption among people. Technology has played a significant role in the decline of such a perception of corruption among the people.

The role of technology is a very significant one in the constant fight against the evil of corruption at various different levels.

Firstly if we talk about the level of ordinary citizens, who were for ages stuck in the hurdles of corruption, technology has been an empowering factor. Most of the ordinary citizens in our country today possess a Smartphone, which has become a really common device. It is something that equalizes the populace. From a hardworking farmer to a street vendor to a rich businessman, all possess this popular device. The presence of this device, although so common, is a major deterrent to corruption. The fact that it can be used to record wrongdoings and corrupt officials, has deterred many from indulging in such activities. Further, there are also many applications that users can download on their smartphones to report corruption that has further empowered the citizens against this menace. Even Social Media which is one of the most effective advents of technology has contributed to fighting corruption, with citizens turning into reporters due to which those who’re caught indulging in corruption face condemnation by all as well as legal action by authorities taking cognizance of the issue.

Further, technology has shortened the gap between the government and the people by removing the much-hated intermediaries or “Middle-Men”. For decades middlemen have delayed the provision of benefits and services to citizens of the country and have troubled them endlessly by demanding extra money under the table for work they were being paid to do by the government exchequer, which also ironically derived its funds majorly from the citizens through taxes. Even I recall an incident from years ago when my father had gone to renew the registration of our house and an official had demanded a bribe in the name of “Kharcha-paani”. I am sure all of you must’ve also heard or experienced something similar. However, this to a large extent has been stopped by virtue of technology. Digital India, the Flagship scheme of our Hon’ble PM Narendra Modi which has greatly helped in ensuring benefits and provisions reach the people instead of getting stuck in the cobwebs of the bureaucracy and middlemen, is a prime example.

Corruption at lower levels has also been thwarted by the incorporation of technology. Earlier when the proper enforcement of rules was affected by the temptations of the enforcers who accepted bribes to let go of those who violated the rules, the advent of technology today in extracting fines (E-Challans) has ensured that rules are properly enforced and followed. Further, the promotion of cashless transactions has also ensured that all transactions between people are recorded and there is nothing dealt with under the table or no commission mongers trying to prey on innocent citizens. Another very positive implication of technology is the government’s DBT (Direct Benefit Transfer) system, which coerces the middlemen (if any still remain) to function as they are expected to without any malicious demands of “Kharcha Paani”, as earlier it was these middlemen who wielded the power to disburse benefits like LPG subsidy, MNREGA payments, etc to the people, however now this power rests with technology which doesn’t have any vested interests or biases. Hence, along with technological innovations, it is also essential to democratize technological access in our nation so that every citizen can experience its empowering effect and all measures taken by the government work effectively.

Moving on, it is also essential to acknowledge that technology hasn’t only curbed corruption in the chain of contact between the government and fellow citizens, but it has also relieved the government from the corrupt parasites who for decades ate away the nation’s wealth. E-governance systems as well as online government digital marketplaces like the “Government-E Marketplace (GEM) have plugged the leakages in the bureaucracy and increased accountability thereby nullifying corruption. Further, the NITI Aayog released a discussion paper earlier this year, in which it identified use-cases where the technology can potentially improve governance ranging from tracing of drugs in the pharmaceutical supply chain to verification of education certificates, all of which are issues intricately linked to corruption.

Although technology has greatly played a valiant role in dealing with corruption and many levels of systematic corruption has declined in India, to be fair with my arguments, it is also essential to acknowledge that technology hasn’t been that effective in some cases and has also had a negative impact on the entire situation.

For instance, it is easy to use modern technological cryptocurrencies such as Bit-coin to hide corruption by transferring money anonymously, untraceably, and remotely without any accountability of the transactions across national and international boundaries. Transactions involving cryptocurrencies are very common over the DarkNet which fuels illegal activities. Similarly, popular online gambling websites and applications, massive multiplayer online games, etc also can be used for money-laundering as an alternative to the mainstream modes to do so. Social networking applications and websites like WhatsApp and Instagram have also added to this bandwagon by virtue of their technology which provides End-to-End encryption to users.

Therefore, we must understand that corruption is a social and economic problem that demands a multi-pronged approach that also deals with the societal motivation and justification of corruption rather than just the opportunity which technology has already dealt with.

Hence, it is essential that we as citizens bring in the change in the societal perception regarding corruption, never indulge in such acts, condemn or report those who do and follow the Mahatma’s evergreen advice of being the change we want to see!

Abhinandan Kaul is an actor, public speaker, blogger, entrepreneur, youth leader and the founder of Exam Plus Noida.