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Of Fakes, Duplicates and Originals – the Tale of Ration Cards and the Trail of Transparency in Governance

On 2nd May 2011, the front page of the Times of India (TOI) beamed and screamed: “Don’t pay a bribe, file an RTI application – Equally Effective in Ensuring Service”. Two doctoral candidates at Yale University’s political science department had conducted field experiments in the bastis in Delhi in the year 2007 regarding poor people’s experiences in making applications for ration cards. The researchers – Leonid V Peisakhin and Paul Pinto – found that persons who paid bribes had their ration cards processed faster. However, those who filed an RTI request to know about the status of their ration card application, were “almost as successful”, the TOI report claimed. (The details of the study and the outcomes can be accessed through Peisakhin and Pinto’s paper “Is transparency an effective anti-corruption strategy? Evidence from a field experiment in India.” The paper was published in 2010 in Regulation and Governance Journal, volume 4, pp 261-280.) The researchers had also put people in two other control groups – one which neither paid a bribe nor followed-up and a second group which had filed their applications along with a letter of recommendation from the local NGO. Both these groups were not as successful as the former two groups in obtaining their ration cards. The researchers’ analyses veered towards two conclusions: first, that the RTI Act serves the poor who are usually denied/deprived of information. Secondly, reforms/laws which give more ‘voice’ to citizens and allow them to scrutinize the functioning of officials and elected representatives are more effective in ensuring transparency and gaining access to public services. Continue reading Of Fakes, Duplicates and Originals – the Tale of Ration Cards and the Trail of Transparency in Governance