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Corruption & Bribery: How Zero Rupees Work in India

Updated on July 20, 2012

I was recently reading an article by Jhonnie Blampied in a marketing magazine that spoke about judgement and advertising. In this article Jhonnie wrote about a Non-Government Organisation (NGO) called 5th Pillar that had developed the concept of a zero rupees note for the Chennai area to reduce corruption and bribery that had become commonplace in India when dealing with Government employees and officials.

The zero rupees note is a very simple concept, whenever an official asked for a kick back the customer hands over the zero rupees note that shames the official back into completing the task without the need for a kick back. The slogan on the note is also important; it says ‘Encourage, Enable and Empower Every Citizen of India to Eliminate Corruption at All Levels of Society’. It also says ‘I promise to neither accept nor give bribes.’

Corruption in India

According to Transparency International India in 2011 scored 3.1 out of a possible 10.0 in terms of the Corruption Perceptions Index. India is ranked 95 out of 182 possible nations in the index and compares with Albania, Tonga, Swaziland and Kiribati at rank 95. In the Asia Pacific region India ranks at 17.

To give context the #1 nation is New Zealand with a score of 9.5, Australia is ranked 8 with 8.8, the UK ranks at 16 with a 7.8 score and the USA at 24 with a 7.1 score.

The worse two nations in the world are North Korea and Somalia both ranked at 188 with a 1.0 score.

With a score at 3.1 India is considered to be perceived as corrupt whereas Australia and New Zealand are very clean, North Korea and Somalia are highly corrupt.

Part of the reason that India has a tendency towards corruption can be found in using Hofstede’s model for understanding the culture and the issues surrounding collectivism/individualism.

India has a lower individualism score than in Western societies where the individual is king (Hofstede, 1983, p.80). In a recent Harvard Business Review it was revealed that top Indian managers score high in charismatic leadership while empowering their staff to assist in decision making (Capelli et al, 2010, pp. 2-3). This reveals that individuals within this society get swept along by people in power and authority and therefore accept bribery as how we do things here. There was a real collectivist approach within the society and the attempt to gain an outcome for both parties (Ghauri, 2003, p.13) – in this sense the purchaser gets something quickly and the official gets a bribe to make it happen. This is in stark contrast to the USA who has low uncertainty avoidance (Hill, 2009, p.108) where they required an outcome for their sole benefit.

Corruption is usually not a direct asking of a bribe to complete work. It is usually voiced in a way that suggest that some ‘oil may make things work faster’ but it is never explicit. In the Indian culture there is no need to be direct or explicit, flowery language can be used. Whereas in Western cultures there is a need to be explicit and direct (Ghauri, 2003, pp. 13-14) as we are in a low context culture (Hall, 1990, p.7). This makes the asking of a bribe much more difficult.

Zero Rupees & 5th Pillar

The 5th Pillar NGO is trying to tackle this bribery behaviour throughout India where people pay daily to get service that is legally free in the country. According to Transparency International as many as 62% of Indian citizens have been exposed to first-hand experience of paying a bribe to get a government job done! This is an amazing statistic and one that the 5th Pillar is trying to eliminate.

Initially the NGO released 25,000 zero rupees notes back in 2007 and have now issued in total over 1.3 notes.

The change is now that when an official has asked for a bribe they are given a zero rupees note from the customer. This says two things to the official:

  1. You must do the right thing, keep your dignity and do the task for the proscribed fee or for free if it is a free service; or
  2. You may lose your job as the customer knows their rights

This is creating sustainable change in and around Chennai and it is starting to spread to other parts of India and the world. Mexico and Nepal have endemic government bribery problems and have signed up to the Zero currency movement to help stamp this out.

Change can happen to a society by changing the behaviours of the citizens and the officials as we are seeing with the Zero Rupees concept. By using applied behavioural economics nations can become more transparent, less corrupt and therefore more economically wealthy through this process.


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    • charmike4 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michael Kromwyk 

      5 years ago from Adelaide, South Australia

      Thanks Anand for commenting. This is an interesting fact that corruption is intrigsically linked with Government employees in India and I guess a reason why the zero rupee was introduced. Cheers Michael

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      In India Corruption & Bribery are common when dealing with Central & State Government Employees & Officials. Almost each of these government employees have accumulated large amount of money & assets, they are richer people- as per assumed calculation there accumulated wealth of individual Government Employees varies have from 10.00 cr. to 1000.00 cr (In INR).

    • charmike4 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michael Kromwyk 

      5 years ago from Adelaide, South Australia

      Thanks rahulo324 for your comment. Corruptions & bribery can tear at the heart of a nation trying to transform. Cheers Michael

    • rahul0324 profile image

      Jessee R 

      5 years ago from Gurgaon, India

      Interesting write I must say.... I knew about the zero rupee note..being an Indian... but as again.. the method could never be implemented here due the same fact... corruption...

      The point is that the Indian Government in penetrated to its innermost levels by corrupt bureaucrats... even the anti-corruption bureau is corrupt to an extent...

      With such a pitiable situation... there is not much small organizations can do

    • charmike4 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michael Kromwyk 

      6 years ago from Adelaide, South Australia

      Agree John, any form of bribery cheats everyone. Thanks for stopping by to comment. Cheers Michael

    • profile image

      John gray 

      6 years ago

      We can find corruption in whole country but it's feel bad to hear this kind of news.

    • charmike4 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michael Kromwyk 

      6 years ago from Adelaide, South Australia

      Thanks pandula77, I agree with the analogy. According to 5th Pillar the concept is working and will be expanded to other areas in India and other nations soon. Cheers Michael

    • pandula77 profile image

      Dr Pandula 

      6 years ago from Norway

      It is a really interesting story and a clever way of changing the peoples attitudes and behaviors. Its more like giving a patch to a smoker to relieve him of the desire although the 0 rupee note has a much lasting effect in ending the corrupt behavior.

    • charmike4 profile imageAUTHOR

      Michael Kromwyk 

      6 years ago from Adelaide, South Australia

      Thanks perassanna for giving some near-India perspective. I think this is what 5th Pillar have discovered, people don't know their rights and at least the zero rupees concept allows an interaction/intervention to get people to understand that bribery doesn't have to be a way of life.

      I guess 1.3million zero rupees is not a lot when considering the population, but as you say at least it is a start.

      Thanks for commenting and giving your real life example. Cheers Michael

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      i know little about india, coz i am living near (sri Lanka). corruption become very common thing in India. specially in public sector, people gave more authority and power for public employes.

      reason people pay money because of the unawareness of their rights, importantly ineffective public sector which is too slow and low productive, to make their things faster people pay money. both people's and public sector employees attitude should be change.

      i don't know the practicability of the zero rupees, but still i believe it will be a good start at least.


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