Indian Decade

India In Hot Water?

India already scrapes the bottom of most transparency indexes. But is corruption actually getting worse?

In most Indian homes, individual water geysers are installed in kitchens and restrooms to give us hot water during the colder months. In Delhi, because they sit unused for months before the winter sets in, it's become an unfortunate ritual each year to have the geysers serviced to ensure they’re in top condition for the three months we actually need them.

I recently took on a geyser mechanic who promised that not only would he fix the geysers in my home, but that he would include free servicing on the one's he had worked on through the end of February. That he was available on the ubiquitous mobile phone seemed a huge bonus, so I commissioned his services and got four geysers fixed.

It isn't that I wasn't prepared for things to go wrong—this is India, after all. Nothing gets fixed the first time, or forever. But within a day, one of the geysers was broken. Three days later, another was out of use. But phone calls to my ‘trusted geyser guy’ didn't help—for the next five days, the man said he was too busy to fulfill his commitments.

It's been nearly two weeks now and I haven't heard back from him. It's a micro example of an issue discussed at so many dinner party conversations and in business meetings these days. But is it possible that corruption, including the petty abandoning of responsibility such as in the case of my geyser guy, could actually be on the rise in India?  

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We already routinely, and shamelessly, scrape the bottom of all transparency indexes. But so many people I meet each day agree that things seem to have gotten worse over the past year. Of course, the sleaze has mega ambassadors like those involved in the Adarsh housing society scam, the Commonwealth Games debacle and the spectrum controversy.

So what’s going on? India's explosive growth could have played a part in all this—there are now so often unrealistic, mismatched expectations between aspirations and the skill necessary to execute them. And there’s also a sense among the young, which so many business owners I meet confirm, of entitlement—that just because they are part of the growth generation, higher salaries should be a given.

It’s a situation any society should be worried about.