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Paying Zero for Public Services

Fumiko Nagano's picture

Imagine that you are an old lady from a poor household in a town in the outskirts of Chennai city, India. All you have wanted desperately for the last year and a half is to get a title in your name for the land you own, called patta. You need this land title to serve as a collateral for a bank loan you have been hoping to borrow to finance your granddaughter’s college education. But there has been a problem: the Revenue Department official responsible for giving out the patta has been asking you to pay a little fee for this service. That’s right, a bribe. But you are poor (you are officially assessed to be below the poverty line) and you do not have the money he wants. And the most absurd part about the scenario you find yourself in is that this is a public service that should be rendered to you free of charge in the first place. What would you do? You might conclude, as you have done for the last 1-1/2 years, that there isn’t much you can do…but wait, you just heard about a local NGO by the name of 5th Pillar and it just happened to give you a powerful ally: a zero rupee note.

In Doha last month, CommGAP learned about the work of 5th Pillar, which has a unique initiative to mobilize citizens to fight corruption. In India, petty corruption is pervasive – people often face situations where they are asked to pay bribes for public services that should be provided free. 5th Pillar distributes zero rupee notes in the hopes that ordinary Indians can use these notes as a means to protest demands for bribes by public officials. I recently spoke with Vijay Anand, 5th Pillar’s president, to learn more about this fascinating initiative.

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.

Anand explained that a number of factors contribute to the success of the zero rupee notes in fighting corruption in India. First, bribery is a crime in India punishable with jail time. Corrupt officials seldom encounter resistance by ordinary people that they become scared when people have the courage to show their zero rupee notes, effectively making a strong statement condemning bribery. In addition, officials want to keep their jobs and are fearful about setting off disciplinary proceedings, not to mention risking going to jail. More importantly, Anand believes 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 last point—people knowing that they are not alone in the fight—seems to be the biggest hurdle when it comes to transforming norms vis-à-vis corruption. For people to speak up against corruption that has become institutionalized within society, they must know that there are others who are just as fed up and frustrated with the system. Once they realize that they are not alone, they also realize that this battle is not unbeatable. Then, a path opens up—a path that can pave the way for relatively simple ideas like the zero rupee notes to turn into a powerful social statement against petty corruption.


Photo Credit: 5th Pillar


Submitted by Selvakumar on
the zero rupee note seems to be a very interesting concept. And definitely very much needed in a country like India where each and every government department is totally corrupted. Even if you want to get a birth certificate or driver license, you gotta pay bribe.. just couple of days ago, a similar incident happened near my hometown. A medical college student was poor and could not afford to pay the fees. When she approached the bank for student loan, the bank manager asked bribe and after a long struggle, the girl's mother committed suicide due to depression. The govt. has passed a law that student loans should not be rejected, but lots of people never knew about this. It might sound strange but private banks do not give any student loan and the poor students mostly depend on public govt.banks to give the loan.. I wish she had a zero rupee note to fight against that. I feel very bad when poor people suffer from corruption (for the rich, it does not hurt and actually it is helpful to them.. and for the middle class, often they do not have choice.. or they are afraid to stand against corruption. my own brother suffered so much because he wants to be honest and always fights any kind of corruption. Good luck to the 5thPillar and the zero rupee note.

Submitted by Anonymous on
It would be reassuring to know how exactly 5th Column works/serves/helps in need.

Submitted by Anonymous on
Sorry, Folks, two interrupting phone calls made me type "5th column" where I had intended "5th Pillar" !! The message was just this: It will be reassuring to understand how exactly the organization 5th Pillar works/helps/functions. Congrats to 5th Pillar. Regards.

Submitted by Sanjiv Bajaj on
The problem with most things in India is not that there aren't rules for things like corruption. There simply isn't enforcement of the rules. And if they're enforced, people in the wrong use bribery to get away with breaking the law. And in the case of public officials, they ask for bribes because they know that most people will pay the bribe and move on rather than try and fight it. With internet use being pervasive everywhere, 5th Pillar could also setup and petition the government to setup a website to register complaints against officials, and even a corruption fighting hotline where people could phone in to register complaints. If an official asks for a bribe, public service announcements on TV and on the radio should instruct local citizens to ask the official for his/her full name and official designation. That alone will deter most corruption. India's democracy would work so much better if people simply knew their rights. These rights are not taught in schools, nor are they practiced by people. So most people don't know how to really use the democracy they are an integral part of to their own advantage. I use used to live in India, but I now live in the US. I receive emails daily from various organizations asking me to write my local congressman, senator or local official on behalf of green, environmental or political issues for which I receive personal responses from these officials. They know that in this country, at least on the surface, that they work for me and not the other way around. It is my vote that gives them the privilege to serve, not the right to make good on my vote.

Submitted by Theodora Godwin on
I was really fascinated in reading your article on Paying Zero for Public Services. Presently I am working as a Temporary Administrative Support person in the Poverty Reduction and Economic Management, (Poverty Reduction Unit). I retired from the Bank in 2005. I have been searching for something positive to work on, in assisting my fellow compatriots in Sierra Leone, in getting out of "POVERTY" and living a meaningful life. Can you assist me in setting up a similar scheme. Bribery is the order of business in Sierra Leone. Nothing can be done with officials without first giving them a "BRIBE." This article speaks volume of a simple way of tackling corruption. As is stated, the masses affected had nothing to fear because they had the backing of a strong organization. this is really wonderful. One small step can help reduce the massive arm of corruption that is stifling development. Thanks to the professor and 5th Pillar for sharing this wonderful story. Theodora.

Submitted by Anonymous on
This is really an excellent idea! Bravo professor! The Bank should help this initiative to grow further and replicate anywhere were possible.

While the idea of the zero rupee note is commendable, it looks in the wrong direction. India's pervasive corruption is more a function of the self serving sluggishness of the ruling class - the recently exposed Ruchika Girhotra case and my own experience indicate that checks and balances have collapsed and coalesced into one corrupt predatory ruling class. Very little difference between the judiciary, the administration, the legislature and the press. They all know that bad, perverse, dysfunctional behaviour is the capital with which to earn money and power. The old "Pinch the child and then rock the cradle" idea. My fear is despite the fantastic growth figures, India is fast deteriorating into an administrative nightmare and a bit of a basket case. Transparancy and accountability are the mantras that will create the necessary paradigm shift. The RTI ACT 2005 as a piece of legislation is brilliant. But count on the bureaucrats to racketeer on this too. Even as we speak, Dr Manmohan Singh’s Office, “Daredevil” Pratibha Patil’s Rashtrapathi Bhavan, Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, State Information Commissioner CD Arha are all in a criminal conspiracy to deny me justice. The Andhra Pradesh High Court in the inimitable manner of the Indian judiciary has misbehaved egregiously. If you would like to know about the sheer impossibility of living a sane, unexploitative, equitable life in India, you and your esteemed visitors may want ot visit and participate at Andhra Pradesh High Court’s Pernicious Rebellion Against The Law .05/29/09 RTI Act 2005 Abuse In Andhra Pradesh- SIC Cheats! Chief Secretary Lies!05/07/09 Prejudiced CIC Laps Up PMO Lies 05/05/09 Divakar S Natarajan and Varun Gandhi Cannot Both Be Wrong ! 01/28/09 And India’s editorial class will not report the story! Divakar's Sathyagraha News and views from Divakar S Natarajan’s, “no excuses”, ultra peaceful, non partisan, individual sathyagraha against corruption and for the idea of the rule of law in India. Now in its 18th year.

Submitted by Anonymous on
I agree with Divakarssathya. While the zero rupee note is an interesting idea, what real tangible impact it will have is questionable. It's not like we're unaware of the corruption that plagues this country, and most officials brazenly abuse their power- even if they might give it some seemingly harmless (borderline warm fuzzy) name (chai-paani). That one can appeal or wake their conscience with a zero rupee note does make for a good story and an interesting read. However, as pointed out in the comment above, the RTI Act is the way to go. The more Indians are aware of this Act the more effectively it can be used and the more realistic our hopes towards a system that is rid of corruption. @divakarssathya I just went through your blog. It is a brave attempt. Please don't give up. May you see success soon.

Submitted by Anonymous on
One commenter's approach has been tried for eighteen years without success. Another commenter advocates a top-down approach to changing an entrenched system, an approach that has been tried in sub-Saharan Africa for thirty years with no lasting success. The zero rupee notes work.

Submitted by Thakur Vishwesh... on
Hello Divakar, If you have the tape of your documentary you should post the same on youtube and allow everyone the opportunity to have a look at your work. Is it the case that Doordarshan had the only copy of your work and they lost it? Regards Thakur Vishwesh Singh

Submitted by Sridhar Babu on
Hats off to Mr.Vijay Anand for his invaluable service to the nation. I wish him all success in his ventures....

Submitted by Anonymous on
It would be interesting to know what happens to the givers of zero rupee notes. I am not being cynical but I daresay the person who has asked for a bribe may 'spoil' the case futher leading to greater harassment of the poor and hapless citizen. The problem of bribery has to be dealt with squarely and stricter action against those caught in the act is highly desirable.

Submitted by Anonymous on
I would think the very presence of the zero-rupee note in the conversation/transaction would alert the briber that the bribee is not the only one who knows he's trying for a shakedown. Zero-rupee notes dont magically make their way into the hands of the poor... Exposure (and therefore the possibility of publicity and punishment) is a good motivator! I would presume most people would not be retaliated against due to this reason alone...

Submitted by Anonymous on
I totally agree with you. They may spoil your case. There is also a possibility when they don't ask directly for a bribe themselves but don't do your work so that ultimately you yourself end up offering them bribe to get out of it.

Submitted by Anonymous on
Could we please see the same system introduced in the US and other countries which officially endorse tipping for service? The note could say something like: "If you don't get paid enough, take it up with your manager, not me."

Submitted by Anonymous on
... and I'll print you your "ifyoudon'tgetpaidenoughtakeitupwithyourmanagernotme" note. More seriously, This is basic economics: workers agree to the wage rate because they expect tips. if they didn't get tipped, they'd ask for a wage hike, which would be reflected in higher price tags on your menu. If this happened in all restaurants, food would simply be more expensive and you'd go to the same restaurants and pay as much. In fact, given some market power, the owners would raise prices more than the wage hike and you'd end up losing. On the other hand, in the existing system, misguided cheapskates like you can get away without paying a tip. So you're the winner, and waiters are only asking for what's rightfully theirs in the first place.

Submitted by D. Watson on
What gave them that right? Their expectation? My generosity? A contract? Social norms? God? The government? Speaking of the government, if the waiter works at a government cafeteria, does that make it bribing a government employee? Personally, I would much rather pay a little more for the food, make sure waiters had a steadier stream of income, and reduce tipping to being a signal of gratitude for outstanding service. It would not be at all difficult to arrange contracts to say "so many dollars per hour, so much per table, plus tips."

Submitted by Mark on
There is an enormous difference between tipping, which is a customary gratuity paid for good service and witheld or reduced in the case of poor or execrable service and the kinds of baksheesh one is asked for in India before services are rendered. Tipping is not a right, but it is a deeply embedded cultural institution in the US. It is exploitative in that it provides a justification for employing service personnel at low wages (i.e. below the US minimum wage) but it also allows service personnel to be rewarded for exceptional work and (often) in an untaxed way. Baksheesh of the sort 5th Pillar is fighting requires someone to pay in advance for a service to which they are legally entitled. Nor is it just the poor, although their exploitation is the saddest. Some wealthy men pay bribes to get moved to the front of the line, things like that. But my landlord had to pay a bribe of Rs. 50,000 to get a building certificate to which he was entitled.

Submitted by Anonymous on
Yes, you might well prefer that - but you can't get there from here. Coming from a non-tipping country (yes, there are some, just try travelling around Australia or New Zealand) and moving to the US, I certainly found the tip culture annoying. But its how staff get paid. If you don't tip them, you're not having any impact on the overwhelming culture, you're really just stealing from the service staff who are not paid a real wage. What do you think happens if your waiter goes to their boss and says "this guy didn't tip me, he said you should pay more instead". Its part of the social contract; you go to a restaurant, you tip.

Submitted by Anonymous on
"If this happened in all restaurants, food would simply be more expensive and you'd go to the same restaurants and pay as much." Well, actually food would be about the same price in total, wouldn't it? No tips would balance higher menu prices. But there would be transparency, and transparency is vastly more efficient that toying with expectation, differing social customs, tax avoidance and embarrassment.

Submitted by Anonymous on
Equating tips with bribes??? You've got to be kidding. The service people who rely on tips to make ends meet, at least in Canada, have a lower minimum wage, by law, than other positions. If you are not willing to tip, then don't use these services. What's going on in Countries like India is a more life effecting situation. Here there is a choice to not, say, eat in a restaurant vs in India there seems to be little choice if you want, say, a birth certificate for your child you must pay a bribe to get it. These are by no means the same thing. What I find interesting about this new project is that it is working on some, ( I would doubt all, given the variety of human nature.) This says to me, that while bribery is systemic, all those who accept the bribes -- simply because this is how it's been done for decades/centuries -- can feel shame and are willing to make amends. Human wonders never cease.

Submitted by Anonymous on
huge Difference between a bribe and tip. Tip is usually given after the service is rendered as a from appreciation. Many professions rely mainly on tip as the main factor for income, as their Base salary are Below Minimum rates. Like Servers and Waiters. as for A bribe it is usually when someone refuse to provide you with service unless you pay them first.

Submitted by John on
Tips are not bribes. In the US, nobody is going to deny you their service if you don't tip (well they might spit on your burger the next time!) In the US, bribing is done on a larger scale and in a more guilt-reducing polished manner. So polished that many people (like you obviously) don't even consider them as bribes. Example of bribes in the US: 1) When a police association calls you for a donation in exchange for a decal that you stick on your car. 2) When drugs companies take doctors on expensive junkets as a reward for prescribing their drugs. Did you know that drug companies keep track of all the drugs that is prescribed by a doctor. 3) When lobbyists finance political campaigns. These are all perfectly legal bribes.

Submitted by Kamath on
It is acommon sight that one has to wade through sea of corruption in every walk of life and do illegal things to get legal things done. The solution lies not making another law. The causes are in losses of moral fibre in the entire society. That is very sad. Kamath

Submitted by Ramesh Raghuvanshi on
I doubtful effect of paying zero note bribery will diminish from Indian society.Indian philosophy teach that breaking ritual is great sin[crime] but break the law thay donot feel guilty.Religion is so strong inherited in psyche of Indian that even in dream they break the ritual of religion they feel treble guilty.How to break this strong religious dogma from psyche of Indians is great problem. If anybody find out way to break this religious dogma than only we can diminish the bribery from Indian society.

Submitted by Anonymous on
@Ramesh, What a stupid comment! It does not take an atheist to know that bribery is wrong. Everyone knows it. Everyone complains about it. Corruption continues because people do not feel there is an alternative to paying bribes. It will only stop when people feel strong enough to say "Stop! No more!" and whether that happens has nothing to do with ones metaphysical beliefs.

Submitted by Ramesh Raghuvanshi on
Reading your childish comment,you are ignorant about psyche of Hindus or you are ashamed about your psyche.Saying STOP if anybody refuse to take bribery than there is no need preaching of Buddha, Gandhi,mankind be honest long long ago.I amazed of your very innocent mind. Long live Indians`s credulous nature.

Submitted by Roswitha on
There is no need to say someone's comment is stupid. Agree or disagree, but please keep your comments civil.

Submitted by Iain McLean on
How pathetic is this and your one example sounds like a Hans Kristian Andersen fairy story. "An old lady hands in a zero rupee note and the official offers her a seat and gives her the land title". Well that convinced somebody. And yet this is a worldbank site? Get back to work please.

Submitted by Anonymous on
lolz i have to agree compare the number of "success stories" to our population and u'll get an idea the brother of a guy at college with me was working on the Public Works Department in Uttarkhand and he refused to ACCEPT a bribe its been months since he was kidnapped from his house in broad daylight his family is running from court to court, but the people who had openly threatened him still roam scot free

Submitted by Patrick MacKinnon on
To those who scoff I would repeat the old Chinese adage, "It is better to light one small candle than to cry at the darkness". Society is largely dependent upon emblems and the Zero note is emblematic of the injustice of such bribery. People respond to concrete symbols which offer tangible evidence of their duplicity and which cannot be overlooked.

Submitted by Anonymous on
What happens when the initial shock of the zero-rupee note wears off and the corrupt officials are no longer afraid? Business as usual?

Submitted by Ashish on
Indeed... and obviously the story/report doesn't mention any of the obviously thousands of failures of giving a Rs. 0 note. Did anyone try giving some of these to corrupt cops?? Are those people even outside jail and able to tell their story? This could only be effective, that too partially in the most trivial and petty form of corruption.. where this corruption is a part of bureaucracy and not greed, where the amount really doesn't make a difference. Yes, this is another drop in the bucket, but hey the bucket is quite big.

Submitted by Anonymous on
If the zero rupee notes are numbered and everyone who uses the zero rupee note kept track of the numbers, when they gave them to an official, where and who the official was you would obtain an excellent record of the extent of bribery. The record might be useful to embarrass politicians and high officials into taking bribery seriously.

Submitted by Jon M on
This is a wonderful idea and a good first step. The zero rupee note appears to make use of the fear of the corruption being made transparent. I wonder if the more notes are distributed, the less the officials may fear the threat of their actions being made transparent (if everyone uses the notes, then you're back to square one)? The program also seems suited to a situation of small scale corruption, where the official is gaining little and possibly risking much, and they don't have the protection of higher-level perpetrators. I also wonder if corruption in India follows the typical pyramid structure, in which a portion of the money flows up the bureau's hierarchy. In that case, eventually, senior officials will either concede the point and try to make their money elsewhere, or they may simply instruct their underlings to ignore the notes. Finally, the program might be discredited and weakened in the courts. It would be easy to prove that someone gave an official a zero rupee note, but very difficult to prove that the official asked for a bribe. Is the injured citizen now open to an accusation of defamation? How many failed prosecutions of officials before officials begin to suspect that the notes don't really change the likelihood of punishment?

Submitted by Anonymous on
Any attempt to break the shackles of bribery even by one link is to be commended. The 5th pillar approach by itself may not solve all the bribery related problem in India; but it makes a bold statement against it. Similar and more such actions can make a difference.

Submitted by Dr. E. Mandel on
I ran clinics in Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Kenya, Uganda etc. all loaded with corruption. In Kenya, president Moi had bank print money to buy votes, was elected with over 99% of the voters, and the next day the currency was devalued 50%. Roads and highways had blocks that would not let you pass without bribes. Problem is that they are armed, and zero note presentation would get you killed very quickly. As long as police and government are corrupt, there is little hope of fighting the system. Perhaps an honest dictator and strong rules for police might help.

Submitted by Anonymous on
It is commonly said that doing something about a problem is better than sitting on your hands and doing nothing. This is not entirely correct. For, by doing something, while you may feel better for doing something, you may not be really helping the situation. You may at best dilute your attention from the root cause and at worst exasperate the problem, if what you are doing is not apt. Zero rupee note is this category. To put it simply, it is not a very effective idea. As the novelty wears off - it will have zero impact and will lead to making the situation worse for the individual on the spot. The anecdotes of positive impact, dramatized in the blog, certainly make good reading but not much more. The problem of corruption is a deep rooted one and not specific to a country, culture or era. One has to look at history to see what type of efforts have been more successful than others in fighting corruption. The notable examples come from Singapore, which suffered quite badly due to corruption at one point. One of the factors that helped reduce it significantly was the very substantial increase in the salaries of civil servants, along with the fear of physical punishment. Singapore is a place where public flogging for severe offenses is a strong deterrent for variety of offenses against the law. While this is not being suggested as a recipe for anti-corruption magic formula, it does offer some food for thought in how societies have fought corruption. Only organized and well coordinated efforts, applied over a sustained period, and supported with the political will can make a difference. The pillars for these efforts have to be a) braking the nexus of criminals with politicians, with election reform, b) use of technology to facilitate routine requests of citizens and reporting corruption, c) increasing the deterrence factor by severe and quick reprisals. d) improved awareness among the citizens of their rights and responsibilities. Without such multi-pronged approach, individuals are just as poorly equipped for the fight as the Satyagrahis were to fight the British soldiers. Placing the major burden of this fight on the individual, without organized support is foolhardy and ineffective. The 60 years of Indian history is the proof.

Submitted by Srinivasan on
The idea is brilliant! Particularly if they are numbered and logged against the person to whom it is given (like the person above says). Thanks to the power of the web we can then track this and weed out false positives by vote. There are many schemes to out the bribe takers in India, but the symbolism behind the zero-rupee note is gripping. And India is nothing if not a land of symbols! And like another asks - indeed the corruption is totally pyramid scheme. The juniors have quotas to fill and they HAVE to take the bribe, i.e. everyone must be complicit in the crime otherwise the others will be threatened.

Submitted by Anonymous on
My guess is that presentation of such a note would be taken as an insult by the official concerned and he would demand an even greater bribe!

Submitted by Prabhu on
Totally agree! I think the article mentions only the rare one or two cases of success while the vast majority would have experienced certain anger by the corrupt officials. In most cases, the old lady would never have been able to register the land in her name, EVER!

Submitted by Lotus on
Why do you guess this? Have you tried it? Normally when you refuse to pay a stated amount, the rate goes down, not up. Showing a zero rupee note indicates that you are not bargaining, you are taking a stand against bribery. We have used the zero rupee note to refuse to pay bribes on the train, with the result that we pay the full fare and demand a receipt. What the ticket collector is trying to do is cut a deal where we pay less and get no receipt - so he can pocket the entire amount as a bribe.

Submitted by Anonymous on
You are right. by showing a zero rupee note, you are taking a stand against bribery. but u should be then ready to accept it even when ur work gets halted because u have insulted a corrupt official. we are in a position where corrupt officials find it insulting even wen u give 50 rupees to a person demanding 200. real way to stop is it by helping the judicial system punush them by catching as many ppl as possible red handed.this is something that can be controlled only by giving them a sense of fear and not thinking they will realise their mistakes.

Submitted by Pushpa Divecha on
Jon M has the right analysis to a problem that will never go away. "I also wonder if corruption in India follows the typical pyramid structure, in which a portion of the money flows up the bureau's hierarchy. In that case, eventually, senior officials will either concede the point and try to make their money elsewhere, or they may simply instruct their underlings to ignore the notes." All hierarchical systems operate on the 'Need and Greed' syndrome. It pays to be inefficient. Those without 'influence' use black-money to speed a lethargic bureaucracy.

Submitted by It is happening... on
Four horrendous results of corruption: First, it creates poverty as few other social maladies do. Not even the lack of education among a nation's citizens destroys wealth as surely and as massively as corruption. Second, it enables the non-producers to prey on the producersm which saps the will of producers, eventually causing them to stop producing. Third, it gives thorough life-long education to the many graduates of the School of Learned Helplessness, who then go through life taking and receiving bribes and saying all along "What can we do about the system?" Four, and perhaps most important of all, it corrodes and erodes confidence in government, in one's fellow citiizens, and in belief in the future and hope in the future. Without belief in the future and a surging sense of hope, nothing of value can be done in any society. As someone who is approaching my eighth decades of life in the United States, I am very concerned that a culture of "bribing the voters with other voters' tax money" has taken root and is flourishing. Everyone wants to get "his share" of the tax pie, whether or not s/he has contributed significantly to the creation of the pie. Worse, huge segments of our society have entered the School of Learned Helplessness, and huge numbers have graduated, people who will be Wards of the State for all their lives, not citizens in any meaningful way, with predictable catastrophic results for all.

Submitted by Jeffrey on
It is strange how a gloss is put over India by certain television programmes on mainstream media. One such example is Global Public Space on CNN. No matter where the host (a make believe Fred Zackaria) points to India it is always rosy and sunshine. There is no mention of the hardship, the teeming millions living in filth, poverty and disease. I wish I am proven wrong, but for that CNN needs to take steps to correct such impression. Let's start by covering Transparency International's Bribe Payers Index for recent years.

Submitted by D. Watson on
I am quite impressed that there are even qualitative examples of something this simple working. I wouldn't have expected it. My main question is: so I hand over my 0 note and the clerk throws me out of the office. Now what? I tattle and it's their word against mine. Does the NGO also have a system set up for encouraging class action suits or investigating bad guys or any other next step when individual courage isn't enough?

Submitted by Robert Speirs on
I wonder who they had to bribe to get those "zero" notes printed?

Submitted by Hamilton on
It's very similar in my country, but the bribes have been legalized as taxes, licensing, fees and various other names. Soon we will be bribing our government for health care.

Submitted by Nirmal on
Yep.. and that's the Indian Consumer. The old lady story is fine but the vast majority of the corruption is because the old lady is usually poor at all and has in all probablilty encroached upon her absent neighbour's land and wants to legalise that situation. Any of us Indians looking at this page is probably well educated and middle class or higher. While we whine and complain and express horror at the latest transparency international ranking, we're not above bribing the traffic sergeant half the real fine amount when found tipsy behind the wheel. We're not above bribing the water authority engineer to get an out of turn water or sewage connection. We don't mind the railway employees and police living in filthy, barely livable quarters and sending off our maids and carpenters and electricians off to some hole in the outskirts as part of city "beautification" campaigns but we are filled with righteous indignation when their service falls short or the govt. proposes to build better dwellings for them or even give them water (yeah that's right.. Mumbai was in uproar when the state govt. decided to give some water to a slum) People who initiate a bribe are people who can afford it and it quickly embeds itself into an institution and it becomes a burden on those who can't afford it. Another part is that this is a market correcting itself. Govt employees are extremely poorly paid and morale is abyssmal. That there are bribes given for the asking means that their services are priced much lower than what the market is willing to give them..and they seek to rectify at least the financial state by taking bribes. The only solution I see is something implied by someone above.. a concerted effort to better the state of govt. employees combined with strict transparency and performance measures, audits and punishment.


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