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mercoledì 26 gennaio 2011

Zero Rupees for Tea Money


Corruption. It is a problem all over the world. Corrupt government officials or dishonest people take money that they have no right to take. One common form of corruption is bribery. A bribe is an unofficial and often illegal payment of money. For example, a company may receive a big business deal from the government by secretly paying a bribe to a dishonest government official.
India is one country where bribery is a major problem. Indian citizens often have to pay small bribes for even the most basic services - services which are supposed to be free. Corrupt officials will ask Indian citizens for money "for tea." However, tea is never served. And people understand that when an official asks for "tea money" he is really asking for a bribe. A citizen who does not pay the bribe may have to wait an extra long time for important documents, building permits and other requests.
Many Indian citizens accept bribery as a normal part of life. However '5th Pillar' is one organisation that does not agree. It believes that individual Indians have the power to end India's culture of bribery. Today's News is on 5th Pillar and its 'Zero Rupee bank note' movement.
Indian bank notes are printed in seven values. The smallest is 5 rupees; the largest is 1000 rupees. But the 5th Pillar organization has also started to print another kind of rupee note. This note looks like the 50 rupee bank note. It is same size, the same color, and it has the same picture of Mahatma Gandhi on the front. However, 5th Pillar's note is very different. In place of the number 50 on the bank note, 5th Pillar's note has a 0. Yes, a zero. And 5th Pillar's zero rupee bank note is worth just that - zero rupees.
It does not seem to make sense that anyone would print a zero rupee note. The note is not real money. It cannot be used to purchase anything. And it does not appear to have any real value. However, 5th Pillar is not printing these notes for profit. Instead, it prints the notes as part of an effort to fight bribery in India. The zero rupee note contains the words "End corruption at all levels" where the words "Reserve Bank of India" would usually be found. It also contains the statement "I promise to neither accept nor give a bribe."
In 1997, Satindar Mohan Bhagat created the zero rupee idea. Bhagat was an Indian citizen, but he lived and worked in the United States. On a trip home to India, Bhagat was angered by the amount of bribery and corruption that he saw. So he decided to design and print a zero rupee note. His idea was to give the note to any person that asked him for a bribe.
Ten years later, The 5th Pillar organization learned about Bhagat's idea. 5th Pillar decided to use the zero rupee in their fight against corruption. Since 2007, 5th Pillar has printed and given out over one million zero rupee notes.
5th Pillar's president is Vijay Anand. He told CNN:
"Our only goal is to encourage zero acceptance of corruption in the future. Corruption is one of the greatest barriers to developing as a country... It has become a poisonous custom in our culture - and we need to defeat it."
Many experts agree that bribery has a negative effect on a country's national economy. And with a smaller national economy, a country is less able to compete with larger economies. However, bribery has negative effects at a personal level too. The worst result of bribery is its damaging effects on poor people.
Shashi Tharoor is a member of the Indian government. He has a popular website. On it, he wrote:
"Really, the biggest victims of corruption in our country are the poor. For the rich, corruption is just a minor problem. For the middle class, it can be troublesome. But for the poor, it is often a tragedy."
Without money to pay bribes, India's poor have little chance to get the goods and services they need to survive. This is why 5th Pillar thinks the zero rupee note is so important. It is a simple tool that individuals, poor or rich, can use to fight back.
Bribes are common in India, but they are illegal. In fact officials caught accepting bribes can go to jail. The problem is that people are often afraid not to pay bribes. And they feel it is useless to report bribery, because bribery is also common among the police.
Without support from the police, people feel alone in their struggle. However, the zero rupee note is a way people can refuse to give bribes without reporting the corrupt official. It is a way for one person to remind a corrupt official of the illegal nature of the request. The hope is that officials will change - that they will stop asking for bribes.
But how is giving someone a zero rupee note different from simply refusing to pay them anything? Bribe-takers are not fooled. They do not think the money is real. The zero rupee note works because bribery is a crime in India, even though it is so common. And most officials only ask for bribes because they think they will not get caught. When they are given a zero rupee note, they are ashamed and worry that they will be caught. The zero-rupee notes weaken the crime by bringing it into the open.
Anand told Public Radio International:
"When the zero rupee is handed to an official, that makes a strong statement that the citizen is not alone in the fight against corruption."
But does the zero rupee note really work? Anand would say yes. 5th Pillar has recorded many, many examples of its success. One small example concerns an Indian man named Rajesh Chandran.
He told the National newspaper about a train trip from Madurai to Chennai.
"There were several beds in the train, but the worker did not want to give one to me. He said that he would get me a bed only if I paid a bribe. I gave him a zero rupee note. I looked at him in his eyes, letting him know that I would not pay the bribe. He looked worried and shamed and within a few seconds, he gave me a bed."
The zero rupee note is working for many individual people in India like Chandran. Now the idea is spreading. Organizations in other countries are considering trying their own zero money note.

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