Jul 192011
 
This image shows a network webcam, the Axis 21...

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That is the premise for the webcam that a top government official here has installed in his office, as an anticorruption experiment. Goings-on in his chamber are viewable to the public, 24/7.

In an India beset by kickback scandals at the highest reaches of government, and where petty bribes at police stations and motor vehicle departments are often considered a matter of course, Oommen Chandy is making an online stand.

“Instead of taking action against corruption, I believe that we have to create an atmosphere where everything should be in a transparent way,” Mr. Chandy, who recently became chief minister of Kerala state after his coalition won a close election, said in an interview in his office. “The people must know everything.”

About 100,000 visitors logged in to the video feed on the day it began, July 1. And through last Friday afternoon, it had been visited by 293,586 users.

The chief minister — equivalent to an American governor — gave the interview during a break in negotiations with leaders of the state’s private colleges over the fees they can charge students.

Although the proceedings were being streamed on his office’s Web site, as with everything captured by the webcam there was no audio. (The minister says he wants visitors and aides to speak freely when they meet him.)

Sunil Abraham, the executive director of the Center for Internet and Society in Bangalore, said he applauded Mr. Chandy’s webcams, even if the effort amounted to no more than tokenism.

“This type of tokenism is also quite useful,” said Mr. Abraham, predicting it might check the behavior of not only the chief minister, but also his underlings and the powerful executives and politicians who come to visit him.

Of course, he noted, if people are intent on paying bribes, they could probably still do it outside the office.

Mr. Abraham said webcams might be a far more powerful tool if installed in police stations, drivers’ licenses offices, welfare agencies and other places where Indians interact with officials who sometimes demand bribes to do routine work. A few agencies around the country have started such surveillance, he said, but most have not.

Mr. Chandy’s effort comes as India has been racked by one corruption scandal after another. A former federal telecommunications minister is sitting in jail on charges that he gave cellphone licenses to favored companies, costing the government as much as $40 billion. Several corporate executives, an official involved in planning the Commonwealth Games and the scion of a political family are also behind bars while being tried on various corruption charges.

But transparency is tedious. For most of the day, as the videos stream from the Chandy chambers, the chief minister is either out of the office or sitting with aides and other politicians. The video from a second camera, trained on the outside chamber, shows aides at their desks answering phones or staring into their computer screens.

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