Fighting corruption with a Zero Rupee note

By | January 27, 2010

I just read this on the World Bank CommGap blog:

In India, petty corruption is pervasive – people often face situations where they are asked to pay bribes for public services that should be provided free. 5th Pillar distributes zero rupee notes in the hopes that ordinary Indians can use these notes as a means to protest demands for bribes by public officials.

It works this way: whenever some public servant demands a bribe before rendering service, they are given one of those notes as a form of protest. The origin of the idea?

According to Anand [president of 5th Pillar], the idea was first conceived by an Indian physics professor at the University of Maryland, who, in his travels around India, realized how widespread bribery was and wanted to do something about it. He came up with the idea of printing zero-denomination notes and handing them out to officials whenever he was asked for kickbacks as a way to show his resistance. Anand took this idea further: to print them en masse, widely publicize them, and give them out to the Indian people. He thought these notes would be a way to get people to show their disapproval of public service delivery dependent on bribes. The notes did just that. The first batch of 25,000 notes were met with such demand that 5th Pillar has ended up distributing one million zero-rupee notes to date since it began this initiative. Along the way, the organization has collected many stories from people using them to successfully resist engaging in bribery.

As a loud form of protest, it has apparently worked. But as soon as the novelty of the idea wears off, and the shock of being presented with such a note is, well, no longer a shock, I suppose things will return to business as usual.

Read the whole post here.

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