'Zero Rupee' Notes Target Corruption in India

Have you ever wanted to skip tipping a waiter, but an 18 percent tip was automatically added to your bill? Has anyone ever suggested you pay him a reward for providing you with some information or service? What about others looking for a handout, but simply don’t deserve one?

Fifth Pillar founder Vijay Anand in India may have the answer. He is responsible for “zero rupee notes,” worthless bank notes resembling 50-rupee bank notes (about 80 cents US) meant to be handed out to corrupt officials and others looking for a bribe.

Although the closest thing we may have in the United States is to leave a penny as a tip, Anand’s idea appears to be catching on in such places as Argentina, Benin, Malaysia, Mexico, Nepal, and Yemen, according to the December 7, 2013 issue of The Economist.

“Honest riyals” along the same thinking as are the Fifth Pillar notes are being distributed through schools in Yemen by activist Mariam Adnan. Yemen, according to The Economist, is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. (According to “The Motley Fool,” Afghanistan, North Korea, and Somalia are the most corrupt nations.)

The publication quoted Adnan as saying, “You have to change minds before you can change law.” Vijay Anand told another source, “People have already started using them and it is working. One autorick-shaw driver was pulled over by a policeman in the middle of the night who said he could go if he was ‘taken care of.’ The driver gave him the note instead. The policeman was shocked but smiled and let him go. The purpose of this is to instill confidence in people to say no to bribery.”

Fifth Pillar has distributed more than 1.3 million zero rupee notes since their introduction in 2007. According to a Fifth Pillar statement, “The note is a way for any human being to say no to corruption without the fear of facing an encounter with persons in authority.”

Fifth Pillar has reported Indian citizens paying approximately the equivalent of $4.9 billion US in bribes annually. The organization initially printed 25,000 zero rupee notes. These were distributed in the city of Chennai. The campaign was viewed as a success. During 2011 Fifth Pillar distributed more than 1.3 million similar notes. At the time this article was being written the worthless notes were being printed in five of India’s 22 official languages, these being Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu.

The notes carry blunt messages translating to “eliminate corruption at all levels” and “I promise to neither accept nor give [a] bribe.”

It may appear presenting such worthless paper could be risky. According to the Fifth Pillar Corruption Killer web site, “Officials want to keep their jobs and are fearful about setting off disciplinary proceedings, not to mention risking going to jail. I believe that 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 by an organization--that is, they are not alone in this fight.”

This doesn’t suggest such anti-corruption “money” should be given to someone pointing a weapon at you, or to a terrorist organization, or a kidnapper. The worthless money is meant to be given to officials looking for an undeserved handout. Extending distributing such an item to others who don’t deserve what they seek could easily involve waiters, doormen, or hotel employees giving poor service; corrupt law enforcement officers; and perhaps politicians.

Should anyone reading this column decide to issue their own version of zero-rupee notes please share that issue with this column, including to whom the “notes” will be directed.

This article originally appeared in World Coin News.

This is a guest article. The thoughts and opinions in the piece are those of their author and are not necessarily the thoughts of the Certified Collectibles Group.

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