The zero currency oils India's wheels of anti-corruption | Connect Asia

The zero currency oils India's wheels of anti-corruption

The zero currency oils India's wheels of anti-corruption

Updated 18 January 2012, 18:40 AEDT

For many Indians, bribing corrupt officials is a way of life.

Last year, international corruption watchdog Transparency International said almost four million Indian families had to bribe officials for access to basic services. India also dropped in Transparency's corruption index from 72nd to 85th in a list of 180 countries. now Indians are fighting corruption using a novel idea - the zero rupee.

Presenter: David Chen

Vijay Anand, president, 5th Pillar; Anupama Jha, executive director, Transparency International India

CHEN: It's worth nothing but the zero rupee note is getting results.

ANAND: An old lady who was waiting for a land title, a title document for the land that she owned, she was demanded a bribe of 7,000 rupees. When she could not get it paid, she came to our office and got a zero rupee note and then went to the District Revenue Department, handed over this note and she got the job done in 30 minutes - the same job she waited for for a year and a half.

CHEN: That's Vijay Anand, President of lobby group the 5th Pillar: the organisation responsible for the idea of a note worth only the paper its printed on. Mr Anand says the idea came because of a lack of practical solutions for tackling corruption.

ANAND: The topic of corruption has never been on the surface. Everybody was practising it, paying bribes, getting their jobs done. We thought that the fundamental reason was there was lack of alternatives. There was no practical solutions, there was no alternatives. So we thought we should come up with something and one of our volunteers, our friend came up with the idea of the zero rupee note and we then launched it on a massive scale.

CHEN: The note, similar to a real 50-rupee note, carries 5th Pillar's email address and phone number. Mr Anand says the note is sending a message to corrupt officials.

ANAND: We want to send a message of unwillingness to pay bribes any more. It is another weapon of non-cooperation, non-violence like India went through before the independence in 1947.

CHEN: Mr Anand says the notes have been well-received by the public because of its practical effect, often shaming officials into getting business done efficiently.

ANAND: The public who have received these notes through our distribution, have been more than enthusiastic and willing to use them and the officials who receive them get a sense of shock and fear because no-one has ever confronted them by saying no to bribery.

CHEN: At the moment the zero rupees notes are mainly found in Tamil Nadu, the most southern state in India, but there are plans to distribute the protest note in majors cities including Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore. But Mr Anand admits it could be a challenge. 5th Pillar has exhausted its funding printing one million of the zero rupee notes. Executive Director of Transparency International India, Anupama Jha says while the note is an interesting way of tackling corruption, it's only a small step in fighting bribes.

JHA: It's a step in the right direction, at the time when different NGO's working on anti-corruption issues and government issues are trying different ways and means of tackling this major problem in the country, this is a small step in the right direction but much more needs to be done.

CHEN: But she says she's starting to see some positive results.

JHA: The menace of corruption is coming more to light, there is also a general awareness, media has become more pro-active, NGO's are becoming more pro-active, generally there is a greater awareness as a result of which, more such cases are being reported.

CHEN: However, Ms Jha says there's still a long way to go in raising awareness about corruption. It's something President of 5th Pillar, Vijay Anand agrees with but he hopes the zero rupee note will help tackle future corruption.

ANAND: So we are working on the youngsters: we are working on the children in schools and the youth in colleges. And that is the generation we hope which comes into the society as officials, bureaucrats or even the common man, then they take a pledge that 'I will not take a bribe, I will not receive a bribe' - that is when change is bound to happen.

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