Coimbatore Aug. 23: Fifth Pillar India, an NGO set up to fight corruption, has printed over 200,000 zero-denomination notes that resemble Indian currency and has begun distributing them around the country. It is asking people to give the notes to anyone demanding a bribe. Fifth Pillar will launch the “zero rupee currency note” campaign in Coimbatore on Saturday.
The NGO launched its 30-day-30-district campaign, called “Freedom From Corruption”, on August 4 in Chennai and will end it on September 9. It consulted leading lawyers in Chennai before printing the “zero rupee note”, which resembles a Rs 50 note in colour and is slightly bigger than a Rs 1,000 note. “Instead of the usual ‘I promise to pay the bearer a sum of x rupees’ pledge on a currency note, the replica will carry the pledge ‘I promise neither to accept nor give bribes,’” Fifth Pillar India president (operations) M. Vijayanand told this newspaper.
As the note is being distributed across the country, the pledge is printed in the respective State languages. “The notes are aimed at sending across the message that enough is enough and we are not willing to pay any more bribes,” he said. A software professional from the city who founded the NGO in Chennai many years ago conceived the idea as he felt corruption was a big issue and the zero currency notes would drive home the message. He is currently working in the US and visits India now and then.
The zero rupee note does not carry any government symbols or emblems. The watermark, which is characteristic of a currency note, is 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.”
The organisation will hold a public meeting at the Government College of Technology campus on August 25 in Coimbatore to launch the “zero currency” and the Coimbatore chapter of Fifth Pillar India will distribute the notes, or mail them to people later. About 20,000 notes will be distributed in Coimbatore in the first phase.
Coimbatore is the 13th district where the notes are being distributed. Some of the other places where the currency notes have already been launched are Thriuvallur, Vellore, Kanchipuram, Vizhupuram, Puducherry, Salem, Trichy, Madurai, Thirunelveli, and Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu. The notes are already in circulation in Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh and in Mumbai. A 24-hour call centre will be set up in Chennai to help people who need assistance dealing with corrupt officials or authorities. The call centre will empower the public to use the Right to Information Act. The service centre will register complaints on corruption and make sure that justice is served, Mr Vijayanand added.
It is totally illegal to print something which resembles to Indian currency ! Though I find the 24 hour call center idea to fight corruption and advice people for empowerment in RTI Act is an interesting move. We in RTI.ORG may put up a call center too ! I can volunteer my services to get a sponsor for a Calcutta based call centre serving all India.
A zero rupee note is a symbolic protest used in India against political corruption.
The notes are used by people who are requested to pay bribes in order to receive services that are legally free. The zero rupee notes allows the person to register their opposition to the request by paying the official with these alternative notes. In addition to the individual protest, the notes are a sign that an organization exists which is opposing corruption. There have been several examples of officials receiving a zero rupee note and subsequently performing the requested service without the bribe.
While the zero rupee notes appear similar to a genuine Indian fifty rupee note, they are not issued by the Indian government and are not legal currency. Satindar Mohan Bhagat, a professor at the University of Maryland, created the idea. 5th Pillar, an NGO, prints and distributes the notes. The notes can also be downloaded online. Over one million notes have been distributed since 2007.
The notes have been issued in Tamil, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, and Telugu.