5th Pillar India, a Chennai-based NGO, has come up with an innovative way to fight corruption. The NGO has designed, printed and distributed notes in zero-rupee denominations, urging people to hand them out whenever anyone asked for a bribe. The notes, which look like the normal rupee notes, carry the name and telephone number of 5th Pillar, and the pledge, “I promise to neither accept nor give bribe.”
“We want to encourage, enable and empower every citizen to fight corruption at all levels,” says A Subramani, director of operations, 5th Pillar India. The NGO’s main focus are students and villagers. “Instead of screaming at officers who expect a bribe, offering them this note is a form of non-violent cooperation.”
5th Pillar India was founded in 2007 by Vijay Anand, a 40-year-old software engineer who had come back to India from the USA. It has offices across the country, but mainly in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
Though 5th Pillar has been around for some years, it attracted global attention recently when Anand was invited to attend the United Nations Convention against Corruption, and the NGO was written about on the World Bank blog and in The Economist.
Besides the zero-rupee note, 5th Pillar also creates awareness about the Right to Information Act, which says Subramani, “is the second freedom for Indians”.
Take 40-year old Salauddin, who wanted to get a ration card without bribing anyone. After three years of trying, a frustrated Salauddin approached 5th Pillar, which filed an RTI. Today around 600 people from Salauddin’s village have got rations cards thanks to that
“I believe it is possible as a citizen to monitor and be vigilant about what the government is doing from the outside,” says Subramani. Citizens should, he recommends, know about government procedures and the prices for government services. How many of us, for instance, know that the price of a new ration card is just Rs 5 and that of a duplicate one, Rs 10? Also how many know that only subinspectors or police officers in higher ranks can charge a fine for violating traffic rules and that they cannot take away the keys of a vehicle?
To spread awareness about such procedures, 5th Pillar has started a monthly magazine in Tamil called Maatram (meaning change). Now it is planning a similar publication in English. “We have selected 16 government departments, which are connected with our daily life, and we will list the procedures and pricings of each,” said Subramani.
The idea came from one of the volunteers from Tuticorin district who printed and circulated a notice on the RTO department. “On one side he listed the actual cost for each service and on the other, he listed the bribe amount.”