Friday, February 12, 2010

Fighting corruption with notes

In Tamil Nadu, an expat physics professor has come up with an unusual way to fight corruption: handing out phoney R 50 notes with a photo of Gandhi, the Economist reports:

The idea was dreamt up by an expatriate Indian physics professor from the University of Maryland who, travelling back home, found himself harassed by endless extortion demands. He gave the notes to the importuning officials as a polite way of saying no. Vijay Anand, president of an NGO called 5th Pillar, thought it might work on a larger scale. He had 25,000 zero-rupee notes printed and publicised to mobilise opposition to corruption. They caught on: his charity has distributed 1m since 2007.

One official in Tamil Nadu was so stunned to receive the note that he handed back all the bribes he had solicited for providing electricity to a village. Another stood up, offered tea to the old lady from whom he was trying to extort money and approved a loan so her granddaughter could go to college.

Well, one is all for any initiative that can make a difference. But, one should be careful not to get carried away. Such strategms may work in the case of petty corruption. For bigger things, alas, only genuine notes will do. Remember, also, that the biggest forms of corruption do not involve handing over notes, they are all about transfers to Swiss banks, giving contracts to firms run by the kith and kin of corrupt officials and politicians and so on. There is not even a theoretical possibility of fighting the real thing with tokens.


K.R.Srivarahan said...

You are bang on target. Corruption is too deep-rooted and broadbased in our culture to be eradicated by such "tokenism". Any person who does not accept bribes is considered as a misfit and other-worldly. As noted by the retiring Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, Justice A.P.Shah, even judiciary is not free from this menace.(Incidentally, he was overlooked for elevation to the Supreme Court.)

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Anonymous said...

Completely agree with the thought. The maliase of corruption is deep rooted and has become a way of life. We are looking at simplistic solutions while the problem glares in our face . It is very difficult - next to impossible - to buy or sell a residential flat without black money in Mumbai. Just wondering if Government could take over all the residential buildings in areas such as Juhu, Peddar road in Mumbai from the owners at the values ( last two years )they are registered by paying a 25% premium !!