Public corruption hearings in India | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 18.04.2011
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Public corruption hearings in India

Corruption is rampant in India. It is one of the main reasons aid rarely gets to the poorest. The state of Andhra Pradesh in the south has now come up with an unconventional way of combating graft.

Children study in a yard with scrap collected for recycling, in Hyderabad, India

Because of corruption, aid rarely gets to the poorest

Some 100 villagers have gathered in a small village in Andhra Pradesh. While they fight for shade under a tarpaulin, the real reason they have come is to fight for their rights. They have come to register their grievances. The most common complaint is that they have not been paid for work they have done.

Although it is not an official court, the public hearing offers poor people the chance to have their voices heard. Usually the accused officials are present at the hearings, but if not, government representatives are present to record the complaints.

Indian veteran social activist Anna Hazare participates in a hunger strike in New Delhi, India

Social activists participate in a hunger strike to combat corruption

Sowmya Kidambi, director of the Society for Social Audit, Accountability and Transparency in the Department of Rural Development, explains that there are many cases in India where corruption cases have been reported to the government. But she says the government only takes actions at its own level, so it does not necessarily have an effect on the villages.

Kidambi thinks that the hearings in Andhra Pradesh are unique because officials are publicly questioned - those being accused of not paying wages or committing other misdemeanors are in attendance and have to face public accusations.

Kidambi says the good thing about these public trials is that the perpetrators have to face the entire community and admit their mistake. "You can lie to yourself behind closed doors, but when it's out there in the public you can't lie and say you didn't do it," she says. "If you were to say I didn't do it, the entire crowd knows that you've done it. I think it is a powerful part, especially for a country like India."

Money rarely reaches the poor

At a hearing, an old lady talks into a microphone and speakers positioned on the roof of the community center blast her claim out into the crowd. She says she worked for 20 days for only 100 rupees, equivalent to 1.50 euros, of which she has only received 20 percent. She has thus had to take out a loan to buy rice in order to feed the family.

People present in the crowd explain that her case is a typical one. The government provides money to federal employment programs for the rural poor. The problem is that by the time the money passes through the hands of corrupt local politicians and program organizers, there is hardly anything left.

"They have to fight their own devils"

A potter in Andhra Pradesh

Federal programs provide employment for rural people but the money often does not reach them

In most cases, only one fifth of allocated funds usually reaches the poor. The state Andhra Pradesh has been successful in changing that. In addition to using public hearings as a deterrent, they have also started educational and training programs for the poor.

Kidambi thinks it is amazing that people speak out at the public hearings. She thinks it is because the people have realized that corruption is a battle they have to fight themselves. "They have to fight their own devils," Kidambi says, "and that means speaking out; no one else can speak for them."

But unfortunately, the loudspeakers at Andhra Pradesh's hearings in are not loud enough to make the voices heard in other states of India. Or perhaps nobody is listening elsewhere. But the central government would do well to open its ears as it is mainly its money that is not getting to those who need it most.

Author: Kai Küstner (act)
Editor: Sarah Berning

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