Zero Rupee Note

Zero Rupee

zero-rupee note is a banknote imitation issued in India as a means of helping to fight systemic political corruption. The notes are ‘paid’ in protest by angry citizens to government functionaries who solicit bribes in return for services which are supposed to be free.

Zero rupee notes, which are made to resemble the regular 50 rupee banknote of India, are the creation of a non-governmental organization known as 5th Pillar which has, since their inception in 2007, distributed over 2.5 million notes as of 2014. The notes remain in current use and thousands of notes are distributed every month.

Bribery—the offering or solicitation of items of value to influence the actions of a government official—is recognized as a pervasive problem in India, with the 2010 report by anti-corruption watchdog organization Transparency International ranking India in 87th place on its Corruption Perceptions Index. A 2005 study published by Transparency International India indicated that as many of 62% of Indian citizens had first-hand experience of having paid a bribe or used an illicit ‘contact’ to get a government job done.

The 2005 study exposed chronic graft problems, with substantial numbers of survey respondents reporting direct experience in being forced to pay bribes to the police (80%), land administration (48%), and judiciary (47%). Majorities of survey respondents characterized the police, judiciary, land administration, municipal government, electricity supply system, government hospital system, ration card system, water supply system, and system of assessing individual income taxes as corrupt. Fully 45% of survey respondents believed that there was corruption as well in the primary school system.

‘The [zero rupee] note is a way for any human being to say no to corruption without the fear of facing an encounter with persons in authority,’ 5th Pillar said in an official statement. In addition to registering the individual’s protest, zero rupee notes provide corrupt officials with a sign that efforts are ongoing to fight systemic government corruption. Use of the notes is intended to shame or scare bureaucrats into honest behavior by reminding these officials that laws against bribery exist.

Satindar Mohan Bhagat, an Indian expatriate who is a physics professor at the University of Maryland and the director of Association for India’s Development, Inc. USA, is credited with originating the concept of the zero rupee note in 2001. Upon returning to India for a visit, Bhagat was frustrated by the petty extortion demands of government officials that were part of daily life and conceived of the idea of a zero rupee note as a polite way of declining participation. The charity 5th Pillar put Bhagat’s idea into practice.

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