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Zero is hero

Ten lakh zero rupee notes distributed across the country in a bid to fight corruption. Is this a new kind of Gandhigiri?

entertainment Updated: Feb 01, 2010 01:21 IST
Sneha Mahale

Want to fight corruption or refuse giving a bribe but don’t know how to say ‘no’? 5th Pillar India, an NGO, is giving Indians a helping hand through the campaign, Freedom from Corruption.

In the last four years, the NGO has printed over 10 lakh zero-denomination notes that resemble Indian currency. And is distributing them across the country, telling people to give them out to anyone demanding a bribe.

Say ‘no’
On an average, in a country where corruption is commonplace, around $5 billion change hands every year. This destabilises the country’s political and socio-economic structure. The notes are a tool to help India achieve its goal of zero corruption and a way to saying ‘NO’ without confronting a person in authority.

M Gowrishankar, who is in charge of the Chennai operations of the organisation, says, “We want to make both common people and authorities aware of the need to fight corruption.”

According to Vijay Anand, President, 5th Pillar India, an Indian physics professor at the University of Maryland, first mooted the idea. In his travels around India, he realised how widespread bribery was and came up with the brainwave of printing zero- denomination notes and handing them out to officials who asked for kickbacks as a way of resisting the practice.

The campaign was initially introduced down South where the organisation has a wide member base and a large infrastructure to back the huge campaign. Members visited different areas, interacted with local NGOs and got the residents involved. They also went to schools and colleges and asked students to take a pledge to fight corruption.

After the campaign caught on in the South, Anand thought of taking it to other parts of the country and headed to Mumbai.

He had personally been privy to the widespread corruption in the city. When Anand had landed at the city’s international airport, he was asked to pay duty even though he was well within the permissible custom quota. When he pointed this out to the custom authorities, they kept delaying his baggage until he handed them the zero rupee note.

The campaign didn’t catch on in Mumbai though for lack of proper infrastructure. “We are looking for people to take it forward. Then, Mumbai too can have its own branch to fight corruption,” Anand points out.

The anti-corruption note resembles a Rs 50 currency in colour and is slightly bigger than a Rs 1,000 note. It was designed after consultations with several leading lawyers in Chennai. Instead of the usual ‘I promise to pay the bearer a sum of x rupees’ pledge, the replica carries the pledge ‘I promise neither to accept nor give bribes’.

No symbols
The zero rupee note does not carry any government symbols or emblems. The watermark, characteristic of a currency note, is also absent and the notes are devoid of the signature of the RBI governor. A distinct circular seal on the notes states: This is not a currency note.

Anand asserts, “The law says that the front and back of a note shouldn’t look like the real note. While the front does resemble a Rs 1,000 note, the back is black and white. That makes it completely legal.”

Printed on the back, is information about 5th Pillar India and ways to get in touch with the organisation. As the note is being distributed across the country, the pledge is printed in Hindi as well as regional languages including Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam.

Enough is enough
“The notes send out the message that enough is enough. I read about the organisation online and during college admission, got a few notes printed and gave them to a peon who was asking for a bribe. It felt great,” exults Deepa Thakur, a college student.

The movement is not restricted to India – one can make zero currency in any part of the world wherever corruption is crippling governance. This is your chance to enforce Lage Raho Munnabhai’s Gandhigiri – in your own way, without getting into legal hassles.


About 5th Pillar

5th Pillar is an NGO headquartered in Washington DC and has offices in Chennai and Delhi. It is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation aimed at fighting corruption.

The nation already has four pillars of democracy — the legislature, executive, judiciary and the media.

5th Pillar has been formed as a coalition of like-minded citizens of the country who want to see a better society and governance system.

Its objectives include getting remedy for citizens, particularly the common man, by using of the Right to Information Act and curbing corruption in government, private and public sector.

How it works
If someone offers to give or take a bribe, give them the zero currency note.

Take down the person’s details including his name, landline/mobile number and designation.

On the back of the note is the contact information for the 5th Pillar organisation, call/email them.

Mention the name of the person, designation and contact details.

5th Pillar India then calls the individual and explains the movement and gives details about the organisation.

Mostly after hearing the details, the man gives in and agrees to help. But if that doesn’t work, the organisation takes it forward by working with local authorities and NGOs to ensure that the person is reprimanded.

People can contact the organisation even if they do not use the note. The organisation will apply the same method and ensure that the matter is resolved.