Corrupt government officials in India deprive the population of their monetary entitlements on a daily basis, forcing them to live on the very fringes of poverty. In a society where food and income are ideally supposed to reach this starved population, bribes have proven to be a very costly intermediary. The ‘Consortium of Groups for Combating Corruption’ is a novel idea that aims to to enable people to raise their voice and demand their entitlements back by teaching them to use the ‘Right to Information’ as a tool to combat corruption. The initiative, albeit on a small scale, has proved to be highly successful.
During 2006, the Government of India launched a scheme called Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), which guaranteed rural population employment for 100 days. While the idea behind the initiative is a noble one, it’s impact on the situation turned out to be far from satisfactory.
Consider the case of rural mason Jai Kumar Bakliwal. Mr Bakliwal was successfully enrolled under MGNREGS and was enjoying the benefits of the scheme. However, he accidently misplaced his job card and was thus, denied benefits of the scheme. Interestingly, even though he was entitled to a new one, the corrupt Gram Sachiv refused to help him out.
This was by no means a rare occurrence. Population living below poverty line in India paid bribes that have amounted to a staggering total of $18.5 million, just to obtain basic services and fundamental entitlements that were theirs to begin with. (Arya and Sharma, 2014) Moreover, all the beneficiaries of MGNREGS paid a bribe at least once, to obtain the benefits of the scheme. (Arya and Sharma, 2014) As a result of this rampant corruption, the amount of bribes in Jaipur and Tonk alone was over Rs. 14.9 crores (approx. $230000). (Mehta, 2010) While the number itself is huge, it is even more astounding that such a huge sum was amassed by individuals who do not even have enough money to make ends meet. With such high levels of corruption, it is hardly surprising that schemes such as MGNREGS have proved to be inefficient.
The Government of India identified this as a problem and to counter it, came up with the ‘Right to Information’. According to this act, every citizen possesses the right to demand information about government processes, without having to provide any justification for the enquiry. While the idea appears to be powerful on paper, existence of the act alone has not proven enough to counter corruption. This is so because, awareness, as well as practice of the act, has been minimal.
Consumer Unity Trust Society (CUTS), a non-governmental organization in Rajasthan, realised this and with the help of Partnership for Transparency Fund (PTF), came up with a novel solution to counter this problem. CUTS proposed to start an ‘intervention’ to empower the civil society organizations in the area and group them into two ‘consortiums’, one each in Jaipur and Ajmer, for the purpose of spreading awareness about RTI and enabling people to fight corruption. This unique proposal gave rise to the ‘Consortium of Groups for Combating Corruption’ (CGCC) model, which was implemented as a prototype in Rajasthan, India.
Structure and Process of the ‘Intervention’
The structure of the intervention, as defined by CUTS, was divided into three phases, each phase with a more intensive approach than the last. Initially, the intervention was implemented in nine districts between Jaipur and Ajmer and tackled all government schemes. By the end of the intervention, it had narrowed down to just six blocks (sub-divisions of districts) and one scheme (MGNREGS).
- Phase 1- The first phase of the intervention had two major aims. Firstly, it was focused on creating a suitable and enabling environment to battle corruption. Secondly, it aimed to spread awareness about the RTI act.
In order to begin the process, all the civil society organizations (CSOs) in the area were invited to attend a selection process. 42 of them were selected on the basis of their potential outreach, interest and capacity to mobilize and educate people. CSOs were then divided into two ‘consortiums’ and trained in the provisions of RTI and the application filing process. The organisations were finally spread across the nine districts.
Additionally, before executing the process, CGCC conducted a survey with the aim of mapping the perceptions of people towards governmental anti-corruption institutions, for example, the Vigilance Commission. Post-survey, members of the CGCC conducted various activities such as consultations where they met with citizens face to face in order to help them in important matters regarding corruption at the individual as well as community level.
These activities not only helped the CGCC identify individual and community problems as well as needs, but they were also instrumental in spreading awareness about RTI. It was later recorded that by the end of phase 1, awareness about RTI had increased by as much as 45%. (Arya and Sharma, 2014) Moreover, CGCC members had successfully helped 779 citizens in filing RTI applications. (Arya and Sharma, 2014) Majority of these applications were related to cases where benefits from various government schemes had not reached the intended citizens. Gradually, an enabling environment was created where the citizens of the district, with the help of members of the CGCC, felt confident in filing RTI applications and battling corruption.
- Phase 2- Phase 1 provided CGCC with excellent results as a significant number of citizens lent a hand in fighting corruption by filing RTI applications. However, by the end of phase 1, CGCC concluded that the scope of the initiative was too vast and thus, had reduced the impact of the intervention. With the limited amount of funding available, there was a need to intensify the process and use RTI more rigorously. In order to do so, the geographical scope of the programme was narrowed down to two districts and just three schemes, namely, MGNREGS, Swarn Jayanti Gram Swarojgar Yojna (SGSY), and Indira Awaas Yojna (IAY). The CGCCs also decided to support two Gram Panchayats (local level governments) in the region and enhance their level of transparency, essentially shaping them as ‘models’ for similar institutions.
In order to ensure rigorous usage of RTI in phase 2, the CGCCs deemed it necessary to identify the points of government schemes where the citizens were most vulnerable to paying bribes. Thus, beneficiaries of the three government schemes were urged to take a ‘Corruption Vulnerability Survey’. Analyses of the survey revealed that 21% had paid bribes to obtain jobs under MGNREGS while 53% of them did so just to register. Moreover, 43% of them had also paid substantial bribes to obtain their wages. (Arya and Sharma, 2014) These findings provided CGCC the basis for engaging in dialogue with officials and policy makers.
CGCCs met government officials, policy makers, and the media in order to present their findings to them and also lay out a set of recommendations to improve the transparency in the process. The findings were also made available to the population in the districts in order to generate awareness.
Members of the CGCC then used the findings to educate citizens better as they began file RTI applications. The rigorous filing of RTI applications led to the emergence of two major problems. Firstly, it became evident that the citizens in the districts did not possess a complete understanding of the various procedures of the government schemes. Secondly, a significant amount of the population was not prepared to file RTI applications as they feared retribution from the officials.
To counter these problems, the CGCCs organised multiple workshops which focused on the practical aspects of filing an RTI application. Doing so also resulted in networking within the members of the consortium who had the experience of filing applications themselves. Moreover, CUTS also established a cell phone service which would prove instrumental in expanding the reach of phase 2. According to the report, over 200 phone calls were received where majority of the people on the other end were facing situations where they had to bribe officials to obtain their entitlements. (Arya and Sharma, 2014) Over 43 of these complaints were successfully resolved with the filing of a simple RTI request.
While there was considerable focus on the ‘demand’ side of the issue, CGCC also started to pressure the ‘supply’ side. Conducting various meetings at the grassroots level with the policy makers helped the officials to better understand the policy implications of RTI and grasp the need to make changes.
The end of phase 2 saw, over a total of 450 applications filed from just two districts. (Arya and Sharma, 2014) Additionally, the established ‘model’ gram panchayats were successful in teaching the RTI application process to more than 90 people, playing their part by empowering individuals with the ability to combat corruption, making phase 2 successful.
III. Phase 3- Assessing the impact made by phase 2, the CGCC modelled the next phase in the image of the previous one, intensifying the process even further. The geographical area was narrowed down to just six blocks (spread across the two districts of Jaipur and Tonk) and only MGNREGS was the scheme taken into consideration. Phase 3 aimed to enhance the functioning of the MGNREGS by ensuring that all intended beneficiaries were included, enhancing the efficiency of the delivery of entitlements as well as motivating people to fight corruption by demanding what was rightfully theirs. In order to facilitate this process, 128 volunteers, trained in the provisions of RTI and MGNREGS, were also recruited.
While the people filed RTI applications with the help of the volunteers and CGCC members, four major gaps were identified in service delivery. Firstly, several intended beneficiaries were unregistered for the scheme and excluded from availing the benefits. Secondly, even if the families were registered under the scheme, many of them had not obtained their job cards and were thus, ineligible to participate. Thirdly, filing RTI applications also revealed rampant corruption in the process of wage payments. Several beneficiaries were found to be victims of delayed/ reduced or even denied wage payments. Finally, in many cases, the worksites were not supplied adequate facilities.
In response, CGCC set up frequent meetings between the beneficiaries and service providers. Approximately 1050 cases of grievances were put forward in these meetings and over 300 of them were resolved by the authorities concerned, making phase 3 largely successful.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Conducting an analysis of this initiative has been a particularly interesting process for me. The purpose as well nature of this innovation makes it very different from any of the other innovations such as mini-publics or e-democracy, this ‘intervention’ does not aim to provide a new platform for the public to engage. Instead, it aims to use a ‘modern’ law (RTI) and the population involved, as tools to eradicate corruption from government schemes. Thus, the ultimate aim is to make the process more efficient. Interestingly, CUTS implements a unique approach to reach this goal. It’s proposal to use civil society organizations as ‘enablers’ and ‘watchdogs’ makes the initiative peerless as far as concepts in the module are considered. Because of this unique approach, majority of the concepts taught in the module, are unable to provide any assistance.
The little literature that is available on this approach argues against replicating the model. The ‘Model Framework for Replication’ states that replicating the structure might be a recipe for disaster if the model is not adapted to unique national laws and situations.
As far as ‘lessons learned’ is concerned, it is evident that RTI is an act which is truly ahead of it’s time. This, in turn, has it’s own positive and negative effects. On the positive side, if implemented properly, the idea has immense potential to increase transparency. However, it is clear that the potential has not been unleashed yet.
The factors that restrict this potential are present in both the ‘demand’ side and the ‘supply’ side. During the multiple interactions, with the demand side, the members of the CGCC, came to realise that the population in the region wasn’t fully aware of the RTI act and its provisions. As a result, they were unable to use the same to their advantage. (Mehta, 2010) For example, when members of the community were asked to pay bribes to obtain entitlements such as wage payment, they saw no choice but to do so. Had they been aware of the power of RTI, they wouldn’t have had to surrender to this corrupt practice. On the other hand, the ‘supply’ side was far from prepared to deal with the situation either. Government officials often purposely refused to interact with both, members of CGCCs and the masses. They also displayed behaviours that made evident that their mentality was set in favour of hiding information rather than providing answers to the public. Furthermore, in several cases, the information requested wasn’t available in the departments themselves. (Mehta, 2010) As a result, gathering information from different sources resulted in much-maligned delays.
Thus, it is clear that in order to unleash the full potential of RTI, it first has to be accepted by both, the intended beneficiaries as well as the government officials.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The effects of the intervention can be summed up into four major categories. Firstly, improvements in the nature of entitlement distribution. Before the intervention, grants under the IAY scheme were given out in cash. This process facilitated corruption. Post-intervention, this practice was largely finished and grants were provided to the intended beneficiaries via their respective bank accounts. Secondly, better implementation of RTI. During the intervention, a total of 11 acts were passed by the state government, which enhanced the effective implementation of the Right to Information. Thirdly, increased awareness of RTI. Although research has not been conducted on this post-intervention, it is predicted that the actions of members of the CGCC led to an exponential increase in the awareness of RTI among the population and thus enhanced their capacity to use it to battle corruption. Finally, it is assumed that the intervention also played an instrumental role in helping members of the CGCC enhance their professional skills and capabilities.
Challenges with Data Collection
Researching and writing about this project has been a very challenging and rewarding experience for me. Data on the intervention proved to be scarce, bar two comprehensive documents, namely ‘Model Framework for Replication’ and ‘Transparency in Delivery of Entitlements through Empowered Civil Society Organizations’. Majority of the content available online was already included in the two texts and thus, the case has been based on only two documents.
Moreover, while it is true that contacting/visiting CUTS could have served as a good opportunity for further research, it was not possible as well as feasible to accomplish, given the short timeframe and lack of funds.
BIBLIOGRAPHY (Secondary Sources)
- Arya, Om Prakash, and Madhu Sudan Sharma. Transparency In Delivery Of Entitlements Through Empowered Civil Society Organisations (Csos): The Consortium Of Groups For Combating Corruption (CGCC) Model In Rajasthan, India. 1st ed. Jaipur: CUTS, 2014. Web. Available at: https://factsreports.revues.org/3551. Accessed on 10th April, 2016.
- Mehta, Pradeep. Model Framework For Replication: Usages Of RTI In Rural Rajasthan, India Enhancing Transparency And Reforming The Processes. Jaipur: CUTS, 2010. Web. Available at http://www.africafoicentre.org/index.php/resources-afic/30-rti-toolkit/file. Accessed on 11th April, 2016.
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