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Hounded by corruption? Zero-rupee notes to rescue!

Fifth Pillar, a non-profit advocacy group that fights corruption, has been taking an unusual step towards fighting corruption. Instead of the huge hell and cry and big placards that are usually associated with a protest, the organisation has been tackling corruption through non-violent means with the help of ‘Zero-rupee notes.’

Hounded by corruption? Zero-rupee notes to rescue!
Vijay Anand; Zero-rupee note


Software engineer-turned-corruption crusader, Vijay Anand, came up with the idea for the initiative in the late 90s while he was working in the US. “I was surprised how the government officials and civil servants treated the citizens like royalty over there and was left to wonder why this was not the case in India. 

Here, if you require a government document, you have to shuttle in and out of numerous government offices over a course of weeks and sometimes months before finally paying bribes to get what you want. 

So, I closed down my software solutions firm in Washington DC in 2004 and returned to Chennai and joined social activist MB Nirmal to start Fifth Pillar. I later registered it as an NGO and came up with the idea of Zero-rupee currency,” says Vijay. 

The Zero-rupee is a replica of the 50 Rupee note, but with ‘0’ as the denomination and printed in a much larger size. The note also carries on either side information about the organisation and instead of the promissory note is the pledge ‘I promise to neither accept nor give bribe.’ Nearly 3 million such notes have been distributed by the NGO across major cities in India. 

“Normally, one would have to go to government offices umpteen number of times to get a work done and the officials demand bribe for the service. But, armed with the Zero-rupee note, the citizens get better service. They are offered seats and are dealt with respectfully. 

For example, there was this woman in Chennai who had been waiting a year for her land deeds, but was told she would only receive it if she paid a ‘fee’ of Rs 7,500. She then collected a Zero-rupee note and paid the official with that note instead of the bribe. 

In 30 minutes, she got the document without paying any bribe! When give an official the Zero-rupee note, it shows that you are aware of your rights and that, instead of being just one person, you have the backing of an organisation. This creates fear that you might report the incident with the vigilance or go to the media,” explains Surya, the Programs Coordinator for Fifth Pillar. 

Anand agrees and adds, “It is crucial for the citizens to know about their rights and the process of acquiring important documents. This is why we organise a lot of information workshops in schools and colleges across the country to create awareness about the process of acquiring important documents like ration cards or passports.

Every government department is governed by a citizen’s charter that specifies a certain time period within which you are entitled to receive a service and the exact fee that the officials are supposed to take for it.” 

Surya adds, “Apart from workshops, we have recently started a study center in Coimbatore where people can study the different processes involved in procuring such documents.”

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