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India's scourge paid off with worthless banknotes

By Harmeet Shah Singh CNN
Many of the worthless bills have ended up in the hands of corrupt government officials.
Many of the worthless bills have ended up in the hands of corrupt government officials.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Transparency International ranked India 84th on corruption perception index for 180 nations
  • NGO has distributed more than a million zero-rupee notes in the last two years
  • Some of the notes carry the pledge "I promise to neither accept nor give a bribe"
RELATED TOPICS
  • India
  • Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, India (CNN) -- Crusaders against corruption in India have come up with a novel way of confronting bribe-takers -- a zero-value bill that resembles a normal 50-rupee banknote but carries an anti-graft message.

The country of almost one billion people has endured a number of financial scandals in recent years involving lawmakers, bureaucrats, corporate firms and stock markets, while corruption entrenched in government is seen as a major hurdle to the nation's rise.

Last year, Transparency International ranked India 84th on its corruption perception index for 180 nations.

As part of its zero-tolerance campaign against corruption, a non-governmental organization called 5th Pillar has distributed more than a million zero-rupee notes in the last two years.

More than a thousand no-value notes carrying a pledge "I promise to neither accept nor give a bribe" have landed in the hands of Indian officials from a variety of departments, said Vijay Anand, president of 5th Pillar.

"And it worked. It just scared these corrupt officials who do not normally encounter such type of resistance to their demands."

But Indian policy-makers are aware the problem is pervasive from individuals to the high-echelons of power.

"There is a constant refrain in public discourse that much of what the government provides never reaches the intended beneficiaries -- whether it is subsidized food grains for the poor, loans, fertilizers or seeds on concessional terms for small and marginal farmers or the benefit of employment programs for the under-employed and unemployed," prime minister Manmohan Singh told anti-corruption officials last year.

The world, he insisted, respects India for its democracy, independent judiciary and free press. "But pervasive corruption in our country tarnishes our image to an important extent," he acknowledged.

Nonetheless, India's media, judiciary and anti-corruption police often play a major role in dealing with the malaise.

Television stations prominently run stories on scams unearthed at top political and business levels, while courts take a stringent view of such cases.

Yet, citizens lament the fact the system remains plagued.

"Unfortunately, we too are part of the same system. Without the bribe-givers, bribe-takers cannot exist. It's just a matter of change of mind-sets and attitudes that can bring about a difference," said Anand.