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The FIFO concept to reduce corruption

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Governance

Its probably time for some Praja-style talk on the subject of corruption. What would be some quick win and practical measures to start dealing with this "elephant in the room" we have accepted to live with?

Dealing with government usually involves creating a request, and then getting it to work through a queue managed by some department. Corruption is mostly a result of our own eagerness to get our requests processed faster. You want your request (or "file", to use the classic term) to move fast, or fast-er, so you do things to get our "request" to jump the queue.

What if the concept of FIFO (short for First In First Out), was applied to all these queues? Further, what if the queues are always visible and transparent to citizens?

In theory, all queues inside the government systems are FIFO (constitution says all citizens are to be treated the same). But since the queues are not "published" (aka visible) to citizens, we get "played" with each other, and end up being criminals by paying bribes to get our files to move faster. And, since most of us pay bribes, no one really gains much, as the files would move at same relative speeds (as we mostly pay similar amounts of bribes).

So, to sum it up, what should we be asking for?

  1. Implementation of FIFO in all the processes inside government that deal directly with citizen requests
  2. The FIFO must be visible to citizens, clearly showing all active requests sorted by time
  3. And last, govt officer(s) working on the queue must work only on the top (or the first) file in the FIFO.

Technically, its a fairly simple thing to ask for. Implementing simple FIFOs won't take huge projects or time. Making FIFOs visible to citizens is where govt dept's attitude to transparency will come in. The need is for both, FIFO and transparency - if any file jumps the queue, every other person with a file sitting in the same queue should be able to spot the "jump" and raise objection.

Its not a path-breaking or new thing. Many babus understand this common sense concept. Uttar Pradesh Transport department has in fact even tried to implement it. Now, let us picture this working for an example, say: Khata applications.

  1. You apply for Khata
  2. Your application gets listed on BBMP website, showing your position in the queue
  3. The same list shows all other applications ahead and behind you (not all details, just enough to identify the application)
  4. BBMP officer must dispose of a file before picking up next one. Basically, can't put something on hold, and come back. File must be processed or handed back to the applicant with clear status and reason.

So, what happens in above case?

  1. By way of transparency, BBMP officer is made to work only on the first file in the queue. (in practice, a bunch of people may take top few, say 10-15 files, assume 1 file 1 person for simplification)
  2. As he/she clears file, your file moves up, and you see it all as it happens.
  3. You get to see the speed of the department, and also the size of the queue to get an idea of how they work, and their workload
  4. The focus shifts from bribing etc to making an objective criticism of the speed and efficiency of BBMP in handling this FIFO

To sum it up, transparency is what can kill corruption, both on the giver and taker side. FIFO is a tangible and useful implementation of often ignored "proactive declaration" clause of RTI Act.

Comments

not bad..but far from perfect.

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 It is a good idea, but still doesn't seem to eliminate corruption. For example,

1. What if you have never skipped the line and when the officer says, pay me 10% of the property value or else, I will mark your status as "document insufficient"? 

2.In many of the govt. depts (ex: RTO and sub-registrar for marriage registration) you won't even be able to find the queue without the help of an agent.

3. Even assuming that BBMP website is updated so perfectly well, and the website is watched grievance redressal when the queue is jumped is again at the hands of the govt. I have seen a few govt. depts that carries out its jobs reasonably well (post office, PDS in TN), but I haven't seen a single one that does grievance redressal well at all!.

3. Even if we assume that this proposal does eliminate corruption, it only does so when citizens to the govt. There are areas where govt. comes to citizens (traffic police, income tax, address verification )

silkboard's picture

@badhrij, your answers

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First of all, this is not a cure-all for corruption, its a big complicated beast. The things is to brainstorm doable things that can help reduce corruption, things that we can actually demand/ask for. To answer your specific questions:

What if you have never skipped the line and when the officer says, pay me 10% of the property value or else, I will mark your status as "document insufficient"?

As long as the "document insufficient" marking is there with details of what documents are missing, and such marking (aka "file notings") is also visible, you are good. Further, you can look at documents that accompanied any other file that got cleared, and say that since that was cleared, you need to clear this as well. But yeah, point taken that there may be subjectivity in "disposing" a file, this has to be defined tightly - one must not be able to "hold up" a file. But since preventing clerks/officers from "holding thins up" is tough to enforce, transparency + FIFO is a practical approach.

In many of the govt. depts (ex: RTO and sub-registrar for marriage registration) you won't even be able to find the queue without the help of an agent.

Now, thats the whole point isn't it?. We should simply demand that there be queues, they be visible to citizens, and they be updated regularly. Simple.

Will leave the you other two points for now, but hope I clarified things a bit.

The thing is this. fight against corruption tends to be around people or specific incidents, and then it gets political, and gets lost. Asking for measures like this (transparent FIFOs) are relatively safer, as you would not be targeting any individual or incidents. Its sort of like taking RTI to the next step, to force some proactive transparency from govt depts.

ashok_n's picture

Reduce corruption by reducing cash

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Can we reduce (maybe not eliminate totally) corruption by reducing the amount of free cash in the system? I am assuming, of course, that most of the corruption happens through cash.

So how to reduce cash in the system? Suggested steps:

1. 2-year plan ( in parallel with UID) to have every Indian citizen have a bank account. A small reward to get yourself UID'ed and a bank account ; First time bank account can directly be credited, say Rs 500/-.

2. Any cash transactions with the bank ( deposits, withdrawals) to be charged, atleast 2%.

3. Enable card payments for all services. This is technologically possible now with mobile payment machines. Every auto driver, milkman, petrol bunk etc should accept only cards.

4. Incentivise card payments by having lower rates than Cash payments for all services ( currently, this is the opposite in India... sometimes you have to pay more by card than cash). Every shop, hotel etc should straight increase the total bill by 5%, if payment is through cash. No discounts applicable for Cash payments.

Make cash unworthy. Make people who deal in cash look guilty in front of their family or friends.

Of course, this will not affect very big scams like Adarsh or 2G or when money is stashed in foreign banks but will reduce local corruption of the RTO, BBMP office type.

Workable?

srinidhi's picture

they wont let this happen..

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 SB, this is a nice concept but the govt/authorities will not get anything like this working!

you are very cosiderate in calling corruption a elephant..its more a virus at all levels..to the extent even lokayukta is left toothless cos of it..

The clerk and other officials who are in the poistions at the tashildars office and other govt offices have come to their posts after heafty bargaining with none less than the ministers all the way to their immediate officers..so the system is so entangled that they will go great extents to safeguard their interests..

So guess it should come from the population conscience..probably from good education!

Like Praveen Sood says in today TOI about traffic violations..

"Do we see a traffic cop at any junction in New York or Singapore? Who regulates them? Police? No. People regulate themselves with the help of road markings, signals and signage.... There has to be a miniature policeman in the minds of all of us just like there is a violator in the hearts of each of us."

sanjayv's picture

I like the idea

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I like the idea, but would like to frame it differently.  Instead of a FIFO concept, it may be better to have a time bound response concept.  In other words, once a file enters the system, it needs a recorded answer within a certain number of days.  If processing is not complete, the answer can be that processing is not complete.  These are the steps left and this is how much time it will take.

Secondly, routine things should have simple rules that are easy to follow.  Rules should be well publicized and also and time boundedness above should apply.  An average citizen should have no trouble following the rules. Reduce all unnecessary steps. It is when you tell a person that he can buy a 30x40 site, but must leave 10 feet setback on all sides to build there (to use a fictitious example), that the problem starts.

Thirdly, all dealings should be a single window policy - citizen goes and gives a file at a point.  No dealing with anybody else.  All objections to be in writing within a time period.  Only works if the rules are simple and straight forward and processing time bound. It is when a citizen has to go from table to table that chances of all this nonsense increases.

 

silkboard's picture

sanjay, srinidhi, yes, but ...

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Ashok, yes, that is an other line of attack to reduce corruption at "retail" level, cut cash exchanges.

@srinidhi - they wont let it happen applies to all things. But you can push queue/time-frame concepts in the garb of technology. Can start with one or two departments that may have right people who understand technology, and this may just catch on with all other do-gooders inside the govt.

@sanjayv, absolutely right, time framing (or SLA to citizens) also helps - must clear a file if type X in Y days. But to even see if the SLAs are being met, you have to first watch the FIFO (aka queue). The point is that time bound processing requirement is ideal, but harder to enforce without opening up the work queues first.

Basically, once you put the FIFO concept, and make them visible to all, need for everything else (time-bound, clear documentation, which dept to go for what) will become so apparent that we will demand them and get them. Right now, the problem is that we are playing against each other, putting bribes to go one on on each other, though unknowingly.

silkboard's picture

'CM allotted sites in just 2 weeks' - scenario with FIFO

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So TOI today reports that Yeddy allotted a large plot to his sons in record time, just two weeks.

What would have happened with a visible FIFO:

  • All allotment requests would sit in one FIFO
  • Some enthu citizen or journalist would be watching that FIFO
  • If CM's sons company moved faster, someone would have noticed
  • This would have uncovered via simple citizen journalism back in 2007 itself.

What is happening without visible FIFO:

  • CM's son's file moved faster.
  • Not many knew this happened. (back in 2007)
  • Someone who knew this has now used the information to perhaps settle scores. Who knows, money may be changing hands as we speak
  • We all just watch these via-media games, because we have no clue on the allotment process, allotees etc.

 

murali772's picture

7 month-long queue!

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@SB
While the FIFO concept is all very good, what do you do when you have been waiting in the queue since 16th April (ie for nearly 7 months now)?

I am referring to my appeal before the State Information Commission against the Registrar (of Society)'s stipulation that all documentation should be made out in Kannada, going by a circular issued by the government, which essentially calls for promotion of the language, and nothing more. And, by this blatant mis-use of Kannada, we ourselves, amongst others, are being sent around in circles while attempting to register as a society, since even a 'Kuvempu' will not be able to manage the language technicalities they are invoking.

If the queue wasn't all this long, the Information Commissioner would have closed the matter long ago, and the registration using English language would have been a matter of a week's work thereafter, at the most.

And, why this 7 months' queue? That's the innovative way the neta/ babu combo work to subvert the system - check this.

And, even as we are waiting, another Society, which cannot afford the wait, and of which I am a signatory, has made it all happen in a jiffy through the 'conventional'(term used by the lawyer) process. Here again, I am part of the 'giver' group. Want to hang me? Please do - but, after you hang the taker. I would like to once again reiterate that the taker is the bigger of the criminals - check this  

 

Muralidhar Rao
silkboard's picture

A bit different, but still

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"Want to hang me" - when did I use that H word? Easy, I am a non violent person.

See, you maintain what you want to maintain. But in this case, if the FIFO was visible to all, you could perhaps then find out if CIC is clearing other requests before yours, and then ask him why. Or perhaps, look at other pending "files" in the FIFO, and check if there are more like yours, and join hands with them to gang up against the CIC.

The thing is that without us seeing the full FIFO (or queue) all the time, situation is mostly hopeless, we can either do rhetoric giver/taker arguments, or pay up to increase our chances. With a visible FIFO, possibilities increase dramatically. How about asking CIC for the full stat on how many appeals he has sitting with him and if he is clearing them in the order in which they came? He probably is not.

murali772's picture

we are not in disagreement

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FIFO is certainly a must; I am not contesting that. The point I was trying to make was that that alone will not be good enough, since there are many other ways by which the officialdom can manage to stall things. The RTI is an excellent tool, and has helped the cause of transparency considerably. But, even that has been blunted greatly as described here.

But yes, if there is an FIFO list and the same is made public, the backlog will show out glaringly, and will perhaps force the concerned department to act. 

Incidentally, I called up the Information Commission again today. Though, when I called up about a month back, I was told that they were beginning to take up April appeals and I should be getting an intimation soon, this time I was told that one more Commissioner had retired, and consequently, only 12 fresh cases are being taken up every day, because of which I will have to wait for some more time. The Commission in effect is currently operating with just two Commissioners, whereas there are 7 positions, and the government is dilly-dallying on fresh appointments - apparently, there are caste politics in play here also.

Perhaps the civil society could come together on this issue, and submit a memorandum to the CM to fill up the vacancies expeditiously.

The invitation to 'hang me' was to those who try to keep passing the blame onto the 'giver' whenever the issue of corruption comes up. You may want to accept it if you belong to that group :))).

 

Muralidhar Rao
idontspam's picture

FIFO is the first step if not

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FIFO is the first step if not the only. How do we go forward in getting FIFO rolled out?

silkboard's picture

Try FIFO at Bescom?

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Can probably start with BESCOM, because we have a a receptive team there right now. Let us find out 1 or 2 "FIFO"s there. There would be queues for New connection (individuals, companies, housing societies) for sure. Does Bescom give clearances of any type to businesses or individuals? Let us check.

Once we find two "queues", I am sure there will be some system (however good or bad) to store the "files" (or requests) in a computer inside Bescom. If not, we will ask them to implement a simple request management system. Then, just publish this queue everyday on the BESCOM website, and publicize the URL on all the windoes that accept "requests" for these 2 queues that we have FIFO-ized.

Transparent FIFO implemented :)

srinidhi's picture

Bihar implements FIFO..

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or at least something very close to that has been implemented by Nitish Kumar.. 

They have passed a bill for it now..

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/118399/corrupt-bihar-babus-hard-times.html

- Right to Service Bill envisages a stipulated timeframe for delivering services including birth and death certificates
- Officers failing to deliver liable for punishment  
- The bill is in addition to Bihar Special Court Act 2009 which enables Government to confiscate the property of corrupt officials

Hope somebody puts up a sweet challenge to BSY and ask him to emulate Nitish..

silkboard's picture

Uttar Pradesh too, FIFO in 2007

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As per Business standard report, from 2007, Uttar Pradesh Transport Department implemented "first come first serve" system for issuing road permits: See: First come, first serve policy for UP road permits

In a major reform move in its public transport system, Uttar Pradesh has announced a policy of “first come, first serve” for the issue of road permits to public carriers on all non-nationalised routes.

Couldn't check details on UP transport department's website (if there indeed is a FIFO visible to public), but FIFO combined with Nitish's Right to Service concept is all you need to wed out corruption at least at "retail" levels.

Should look around more and perhaps write a whitepaper, which we can then hand over to RTO, BBMP etc.

silkboard's picture

Advocacy for "Right to Service" act for Karnataka?

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An indirect way to get these concepts implemented would be to ask for Right to Service act at Karnataka. The "power" to delay or deny service without clear timeframe guarantees or written reason for delay or denial is at the heart of most corruption, isn't it?

silkboard's picture

Katta cleared files in 4 days - why?

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Because there was no FIFO at office of Industries Minister. This is what happened (source, TOI Bangalore, Oct 3, they have in turn sourced from Lokayukta FIR/Reports)

Former industries minister Katta Subramanya Naidu was apparently in a tearing hurry to ensure that about 325 acres of land near Devanahalli was granted to an industry for establishing IT/ITES SEZ. The minister ensured that the application for land was processed in just four days!

Whether the tearing hurry was due to a bribe or not will be argued in the courts for the decade to come, but wouldn't a simple FIFO at Industries minister's office prevent all this?

  1. All proposals are put in this FIFO
  2. Industries Minister must deal with them one by one.
  3. Additionally, for proposals that are NOT cleared, it must publish a written reason. That reason the becomes a record of reference for future approvals or denials.

Now, a natural question. Why is there no FIFO at these levels? I am guessing its so because the Industries themselves don't want it. No FIFO means those who have the pockets to pay bribe to get their things "speeded up" always have the better chance.

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