The Zero-Rupee Note Is Very Valuable

Fumiko Nagano of the World Bank writes that petty bribery is a normal part of government bureaucracy in India. If you need some license or form or permission, you'll probably have to pay a bribe. An organization attempting to reform this practice has begun distributing rupee notes with a designated value of zero, to be offered to government officials when they ask for money:

According to Anand, the idea was first conceived by an Indian physics professor at the University of Maryland, who, in his travels around India, realized how widespread bribery was and wanted to do something about it. He came up with the idea of printing zero-denomination notes and handing them out to officials whenever he was asked for kickbacks as a way to show his resistance. Anand took this idea further: to print them en masse, widely publicize them, and give them out to the Indian people. He thought these notes would be a way to get people to show their disapproval of public service delivery dependent on bribes. The notes did just that. The first batch of 25,000 notes were met with such demand that 5th Pillar has ended up distributing one million zero-rupee notes to date since it began this initiative. Along the way, the organization has collected many stories from people using them to successfully resist engaging in bribery.

One such story was our earlier case about the old lady and her troubles with the Revenue Department official over a land title. Fed up with requests for bribes and equipped with a zero rupee note, the old lady handed the note to the official. He was stunned. Remarkably, the official stood up from his seat, offered her a chair, offered her tea and gave her the title she had been seeking for the last year and a half to obtain without success. Had the zero rupee note reached the old lady sooner, her granddaughter could have started college on schedule and avoided the consequence of delaying her education for two years. In another experience, a corrupt official in a district in Tamil Nadu was so frightened on seeing the zero rupee note that he returned all the bribe money he had collected for establishing a new electricity connection back to the no longer compliant citizen.

Link via Marginal Revolution | Image: 5th Pillar

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i have no idea whether the notes work, or indeed if they really exist. but, psychologically, the idea seems to have some merit. very few acts of corruption- even clear cases where laws and social values are being directly contradicted- are initiated in a mood of pure cynicism. people have to find a way to rationalize something evil, most of the time.

a direct challenge to the rationalization makes the action much harder to follow through. at the same time, directly challenging another adult's rationalization isn't a normal behavior in any society of which *i* am aware. the zero currency notes frame a special case exemption for conflict avoidance.

i do agree with yash on one thing, though. you find one of the people who are knowingly, willingly corrupt, you spill a can of whup-ass all over yourself with this trick.
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Yash, It does work. I have been driving this effort for the last 4 years, we have distributed 1 million plus copies so far, out of which probably a few hundreds only have used it, but we are yet to see one case of "failure". On the other hand, we have received numerous feedback on success stories. I am sure you would agree that our fellow citizens would have reported to us promptly if it didnt work or if it complicated their situation, when they used the Zero rupee note. I have personally seen it work few dozen times. Cheers..
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