Monday, 16 January 2012

The Aam Admi, The Snail, and Fake Indian Currency Notes...

As per the report of 15/01/2012 in "The Hindu", there is a massive 400% increase in the FICN as per estimates by the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), during 2011. It states - “4,23,539 incidents of Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICN) with a face value of over Rs 35 crore.” But, this is ONLY what the authorities have been able to seize in this period. What is the estimate for the number of FICNs, and by value,  that is IN Circulation, and misses the eyes of the authorities concerned? In a vast country like India, with so many towns and villages lacking the requisite detection infrastructure, my guess is as good or as as bad as anybody else's! 


Here is another report on the same by Zee News (on 15/1/2012) - "Fake currency likely to touch new highs in 2o12". It reports the Crime Branch officials as saying - "Seized counterfeit Indian currency notes have most of the security features of genuine currency notes and for a man on the street it would be difficult to spot the difference."

The MSN report (©Indo-Asian News Service) on 14/01/2012 states that the counterfeit currency came from Pakistan, and its kingpin, one Mr.Iqbal Kana, (not sure, how the authorities so quickly call somebody kingpin while a lot of work need to be done to apprehend) has reportedly (not at all surprising) fled. It names a resident of Delhi, one Mr. Hassan (not full name, though) had gone to Pakistan to collect the fake notes.


The two men, transporting the money on autorickshaws in west Delhi's Dabri area and in Karol Bagh area of West Delhi, have been identified as Ash Mohammed and Zeeshan Khan.


MSN further states: As per a senior police official, the wrappers seized from the clothes used to conceal fake currency had the names of five companies -- Safari Textiles Mills, Four Star Sidiki Processing Mill, Maharani Collection, Kohinoor Suiting and Usmaan Naiem Fabrics -- all based in Pakistan's Faisalabad city.


A report in The Daily Excelsior on 5th Sept "Fake currency printed at Pak Govt press at Peshawar", by Sanjeev Pargal on 5th Sept'11, states that the Pakistan Intelligence Agency, ISI, is running a printing press in Peshawar for the purpose of manufacturing fake Indian currency notes. 


Its worth remembering that Zee news reported seizure of some (fake) Euro and USA currency too, in 2007.  Is there any guarantee that ISI has not been printing Euros or US Dollars after 2007? 


The counterfeiters have been so emboldened as to try directly exchanging the fake currency at RBI itself! This is what Mid-day reported today (16/1/2012). An alert bank official spotted the fake currency, and the man identified as, Saiddul alias Aslam Surat Ali Shaikh (26), has been taken into custody.  


Let us take a look at what the RBI has to say on this serious issue. I am referring to the published material (with links for reference). 


1. I quote the excerpts from Dr. D. Subbarao, Governor, Reserve Bank of India, speech at the Foundation Stone laying function for the Bank Note Paper Mill at Mysore on March 22, 2010). (Highlights added by the author of this post for emphasis.)


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Fake Currency/Counterfeit Notes
12. Counterfeiting of money is almost as old as printing of currency. At some period in history, it was considered treasonous enough to warrant punishment by death. It was in 1650 AD that paper money was developed and counterfeiting flourished, especially within America where counterfeit money was more common than genuine money. Counterfeiters had become so skilled that when the first federal coins were issued by the US Government in the 1780s, they had the dies cut by an ex-counterfeiter. However, it was the advent of colour copiers and other electronic devices in late twentieth century that made counterfeiting easier. Around the world, governments are locked in a fierce race with counterfeiters to keep that one crucial step ahead in terms of technology and security features. Governments are also tightening measures to check counterfeiting, apprehend counterfeiters and impose deterrent and harsher punishments.

13. Data available in the public domain suggests that the incidence of counterfeiting varies across different countries. While in Australia, counterfeit notes detected were around seven pieces per million notes in circulation (2008-09), in Canada it was 76 (2008). In New Zealand, the number was a low of 0.71 counterfeits per million notes in circulation (2008-09), whereas in Switzerland it was ten. As for the euro, there was roughly about one counterfeit per 14,600 bank notes in circulation (2008). At home here in India, fake notes reported as detected by banks and fake notes found in remittances received by RBI during 2008-09 amounted to eight per one million notes in circulation. The data however does not include the counterfeits that are seized by police. The above data shows that, by an international metric, the incidence of counterfeit notes in India is not alarming. Nevertheless, counterfeiting per se is a matter of serious concern for the Government and the Reserve Bank.



14.  While on the subject of estimate of fake notes, I want to make a clarification. Last year, some newspapers had erroneously quoted a figure from the Nayak Committee Report for estimates of forged currency notes in circulation. The Nayak Committee, which was set up in 1988 to go into the dynamics of currency management, did not make any estimate of fake currency. What it estimated was the projected value of notes in circulation in the year 2000 which has Rs. 1,69,000 crore. The media incorrectly reported this as the number of fake notes in circulation. [It is worth noting that the RBI governor does NOT want to hazard a guess or speak of whether any efforts to estimate the same were made by RBI or not.]


2. A press release by RBI on August 11, 2009, opens with this line: "The sharp increase in the number of physical notes in circulation as also the increase in the number of cases of fake notes detected/seized in recent period, have clearly underscored the need for increased vigil by all stakeholders to address the menace of fake notes." In the same statement it goes on to state: "The Group noted that the number of fake notes in India is estimated at 3 to 6 pieces per million, and this is one of the lowest in the world."  [Note: It is not clear if the million here refers to million rupees, or, million notes, in circulation.]


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RBI's efforts are on improving the mechanism to catch the counterfeits when it enters the banking system. But, most of the time, the counterfeiters would circulate it among the gullible public in different places. When its seized, the bank generally notes down details, of the person submitting the notes. So, if somebody palmed off such notes to the individual, s/he stands to lose it at the bank. Just think how many banks in small towns and villages are equipped to tackle this menace. It also tells why the RBI cannot hazard a guess on the quantum of fake currency in circulation,  and the silence of Finance Minister in this regard.


Swami Ramdev has been consistently demanding that the Govt of India seriously consider banning  currency notes of Rs.500/- and Rs.1000/- denomination. This suggestion merits consideration on the ground of drastically impacting fake currency note circulation racket too. The cost of manufacturing, delivering, and ensuring the mafia network is having a decent return on this investment, risks, means the notes have to be of higher denomination. Yes, its a specialist job - done only be enemy interests to hurt our economy in a proxy war, where-in neither USA, nor EU, have any say on the epicentre of this terrorism in our neighbourhood. We have not heard the govt of India announce any concrete plan of action on addressing this issue. (If any reader has come across such information kindly share with me the details so that I can correct the article.)


Questions to consider: Why is the government slow in taking necessary steps to defeat this evil of FICN? Is the govt serious in taking up the matter with Pakistan? What efforts has the govt made to find proof of the fake currency manufacturing, smuggling from Pakistan? What are steps it contemplates to eliminate this racket? So far, we have only seen very small fish caught, with no information on their prosecution, conviction. Why there is no breakthrough in pursuing the REAL kingpins? 


Additional reading: India Today's special(!) on Fake Currency - Fake Notes, Real Threat. The following articles under this special show as in 2009 itself the menace was considered serious enough for RBI to mull more aggressive steps. 
Major fake currency hauls in north India
Economic terror no fake threat - excerpt: "The RBI says forged notes were detected by the banking system in 2007- 2008 to the tune of four fakes per one million notes in circulation. Inputs with us suggest that FICN seizures in India are just the tip of the iceberg," a home ministry official said."



Here is an article "Is the RBI helpless in dealing with fake currency notes?" by Vinod Vyasulu (The writer was formerly RBI chair professor at ISEC, Bangalore), in Deccan Herald on July 8 (2011?). This article makes a pitch for de-monetizing the 500/- and 1000/- denomination notes. Exactly the lines Baba Ramdevji speaks!

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