The worthless banknotes that put an end to bribery

11 February 2010

Ladies and gents, a true tale of people power from India, where corruption amongst local government is rife. Simple, mundane, everyday acts - planning regulations, requests concerning land deeds - that should occur without drama or consequence are exploited by officials who will only perform their civil duties if given an incentive. Bribery is seemingly a way of life for the population, but they have a new weapon in their arsenal and dammit, they're going to use it.

On a continent where it's claimed over £3 billion is exchanged in bribes every year, the deterrent that has public officials quaking in their boots is a worthless piece of paper - the zero rupee note:

Bitterwallet - the zero rupee note

The concept was conceived by a physics professor who toured India and realised the widespread scale of bribery, then adopted by 5th Pillar, a non-profit, non-governmental organisation aimed at fighting corruption. 5th Pillar began by printing 25,000 of the notes, but demand soared because of the note's effectiveness, and a million have since been distributed.

According to the President of Fifth Pillar, the zero rupee note is having a profound effect on bribery in India:

Bribery is a crime in India punishable with jail time. Corrupt officials seldom encounter resistance by ordinary people that they become scared when people have the courage to show their zero rupee notes, effectively making a strong statement condemning bribery. Officials are fearful about setting off disciplinary proceedings, not to mention risking going to jail.

More importantly, the success of the notes lies in the willingness of the people to use them. People are willing to stand up against the practice that has become so commonplace because they are no longer afraid: first, they have nothing to lose, and secondly, they know that this initiative is being backed up... they are not alone in this fight.

For people to speak up against corruption that has become institutionalised within society, they must know that there are others who are just as fed up and frustrated with the system. Once they realise that they are not alone, they also realise that this battle is not unbeatable... relatively simple ideas like the zero rupee notes turn into a powerful social statement against petty corruption.



  • mizzle
    I don't get it. How does it combat bribery? I suppose I could research myself using a well-known search engine....nah!
  • Nobby
    I think the idea is that if an official wants a bribe then you show them a zero rupee note, and they shit themself and are so scared that you have the courage to stand up to them that they don't go through with accepting the bribe. So like saying no, but more of a passive way of doing it.
  • Striving I.
    [...] banknotes Another article appeared on a popular deals site highlighting their work. Link: The worthless banknotes that put an end to bribery "If one man is representing India in cricket, then yes, blame that person when things go [...]
  • Businessman
    We had an email round at work, they are going to start paying us with these :(
  • andy y.
    Great way to get your shack torched,
  • divakarssathya
    While the idea of the zero rupee note is commendable, it looks in the wrong direction. India's pervasive corruption is more a function of the self serving sluggishness of the ruling class - the recently exposed Ruchika Girhotra case and my own experience indicate that checks and balances have collapsed and coalesced into one corrupt predatory ruling class. Very little difference between the judiciary, the administration, the legislature and the press. They all know that bad, perverse, dysfunctional behaviour is the capital with which to earn money and power. The old "Pinch the child and then rock the cradle" idea. Politics as a protection racket. My fear is despite the fantastic growth figures, India is fast deteriorating into an administrative nightmare and a bit of a basket case. Transparency and accountability are the mantras that will create the necessary paradigm shift. The RTI ACT 2005 as a piece of legislation is brilliant. But count on the bureaucrats to racketeer on this too. Even as we speak, Dr Manmohan Singh’s Office, “Daredevil” Pratibha Patil’s Rashtrapathi Bhavan, Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, State Information Commissioner CD Arha are all in a criminal conspiracy to deny me justice. The Andhra Pradesh High Court in the inimitable manner of the Indian judiciary has misbehaved egregiously. If you would like to know about the sheer impossibility of living a sane, unexploitative, equitable life in India, you and your esteemed visitors may want to visit and participate at Andhra Pradesh High Court’s Pernicious Rebellion Against The Law .05/29/09 RTI Act 2005 Abuse In Andhra Pradesh- SIC Cheats! Chief Secretary Lies!05/07/09 Prejudiced CIC Laps Up PMO Lies 05/05/09 Divakar S Natarajan and Varun Gandhi Cannot Both Be Wrong ! 01/28/09 And India’s editorial class will not report the story! Divakar's Sathyagraha News and views from Divakar S Natarajan’s, “no excuses”, ultra peaceful, non partisan, individual sathyagraha against corruption and for the idea of the rule of law in India. Now in its 18th year. Any struggle against a predatory authority is humanity's struggle to honour the gift of life.
  • Nobby
    > While the idea of the zero rupee note is commendable, it looks in the wrong direction. I agree. Ghandi, like most politicians, should be looking to the right.

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