Real threat from fake notes

Counterfeit notes recorded a 10.7 percent uptick in 2021-22. Of these, fake notes of Rs 2,000 denomination increased by 55 percent  in 2021-22 over the previous fiscal year. Similarly,  Rs 500 denomination fake notes rose by a whopping 102 per cent. This is not any exaggerated version but as per the latest Annual Report of the Reserve Bank of India. According to the RBI report, during 2021-22, out of the total Fake Indian Currency Notes detected in the banking sector, 6.9 per cent were detected at the RBI and 93.1 per cent at other banks.  In fact, replying to a question in the Rajya Sabha, Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai provided a data of counterfeit notes seized in five years since 2016 confirmed that as per the data, 8,34,947 pieces were seized in 2020, 2,87,404 in 2019, 2,57,243 in 2018, 3,55,994 in 2017, and 2,81,839 in 2016.

This shows that the threat from fake notes is real because these look akin to real ones and seem to have been printed on the same security paper and have security features that only government security presses can provide.  In keeping with our investigative journalism, Tehelka cover story ‘Fake notes network still up and running’ by our Special Investigative Team lays bare the modus operandi of the operators.  In fact, participants of a conference of the Director-Generals of police, organised by the Intelligence Bureau, described as the proverbial “tip of the iceberg”, the seized counterfeit currency. A former chairman of SBI had jokingly told me that of the total notes that I am carrying in my wallet, one third could be fake.  The quality of the latest fake notes is so fine that a banker commented, “It seems the fakes were printed in the same press where we print our genuine notes.” Pakistan is said to be fighting a proxy war in India, with Indian money by trying to pump in surplus money to shoot up inflation, reduce the value of real money and to create trust deficit in our own bills.

The magnitude of the problem is enormous. It’s a long time ago when a fake note could be detected by touch and feel. The counterfeiters are now organised and tech-savvy. There is an urgent need to deploy the right technological options on a massive scale at all retail sales counters across the country and banks to catch and root out the counterfeiters.  Also the RBI should incorporate more security features in currency notes so that genuine could be distinguished from fake even by a lay person.  The RBI’s focus on creating a “less-cash” society is a welcome move and already it has started reaping fruits. The volume of digital payments in India has increased by 33 percent during 2021-2022 with a total of 7,422 crore digital payment transactions recorded during this period, up from 5,554 crore transactions seen in 2020-21. Indeed, this is a challenge worth investing in!