A Fake Rs 2,000 Note From a Kolkata ATM That no Bank Replaced
I was crestfallen as a fake Rs 2,000 note amounts to a shock tax on my monthly income, a tax that I cannot afford.
On 25 September, I walked into an ATM to withdraw cash. As usual, the ATM maximised the number of Rs 2,000 notes in churning out money. I was gradually able to dispose these high denomination notes in sundry expenses, including the salaries of maid-servants.
A solitary offensive piece of wafer thin pink paper remained. Meanwhile, I travelled to Gurugram for the Puja vacation. On the evening of 1 October, I trotted into Starbucks to purchase three cappuccinos for my family, as well as one of their signature cherry chocolate pastries. I saw the bill of around Rs 800 for this paltry fare as a good opportunity to dispose of the lone pink note.
Rs 2,000 Note from an ATM Turns Out to be Fake
Ever since these notes have come into circulation, I have always been rattled by their unavoidable possession: The notes are so thin that there is a real danger of overpaying, as the notes merge into each other; they bring back memories of make-believe currency used in games such as Monopoly; once they come into one’s possession, they tend to cling to your person (it is very difficult to part with them, except in high value cash transactions, which are ostensibly the targets of much touted demonetisation and digitisation).
I am also morally against the issue of such unusually compact large denomination notes, which contribute to the easy creation of currency stashes.
To get back to the story, the person at the counter in Starbucks, Ambience Mall, picked up the Rs 2,000 note and proceeded to scrutinise it, and feel it with his fingers. To the naked eye, there seemed nothing wrong with the note, but the crispness of real notes eluded him. He declared it to be fake and returned it to me with looks and words which did not go down well with me.
I was to learn later that the letters ‘RBI’ – inscribed in a barely legible font – all along the silvery vertical thread of a genuine Rs 2,000 note, were also missing. I have never expressed much interest in the genuineness of currency notes as I have always trusted bank ATMs to provide me with a genuine tender.
Bank Refuses to Bail Me Out
I was crestfallen as a loss of Rs 2,000 amounts to a tax of two percent on my monthly income; in any case, such forms of shock taxation are hardly justifiable. I steeled myself and concentrated on household chores and my daily diet of reading and writing while planning my next move.
On 4 October, I walked into the SBI branch in Sector 31, Gurugram, to deposit a cheque, and subjected the note to another inspection by a branch official. He too did not find anything visually wrong with the note, but his machine identified it as fake.
Now desperate, I requested the branch manager and the official to help me, but my entreaties fell on deaf ears: Apparently, they were more bothered about the trouble that they would get into by helping me, rather than protecting my rights as a consumer, an SBI customer, and a citizen.
I returned home and subjected my note to the watchful eye of the Modi app; as the note disappeared under my mobile, Modi started speaking in vastly improved but accented English, blissfully unaware of the fakeness that he was shrouding. I realised that the much-touted app was the mother of all gimmicks: it was meant to emotionally manipulate people and not help them.
Claims of Unearthing Counterfeit Currency Fall Flat
I had no option but to convert my experience into a story, hoping that the government and consumers could draw a lesson from my agony. I am not a sadist, and firmly believe in transmitting the lessons learnt from bitter experiences to as large an audience as possible.
When demonetisation was announced and the Rs 2,000 notes were put in circulation, I, along with other researchers, extensively studied the policy's impact on the middle class and the poor. These sections mostly eke out a miserable existence from the informal sector, and their state was to become more dismal with demonetisation ravaging a lot which was either unbanked or scared of banks.
While exploring the various possible impacts of demonetisation, I came across a staunch defence which highlighted its role in eliminating counterfeit currency. I tried to examine the correctness of this defence by going through opinions of experts.
After much toil I concluded that the defence was grossly inaccurate: The counterfeiting industry of the modern era is extremely sophisticated and completely capable of recalibration on a short notice.
Fake New Currency a Better Copy Than Fake Old Currency
In fact, one could be sure that new counterfeited currency would be a close substitute of the genuine new currency than fake old currency would be of its genuine counterpart. In other words, the move meant that that a temporary drop in the circulation of counterfeit money was being traded off against a future rise. As usual, the myopic consumer was impressed.
I soon left this cerebral by lane and came back to my original avenue of research and reflection. The petition to the government about undoing the adverse impact of demonetisation did gain some publicity, especially through this news portal, but it was really too much to expect the government and the PM to listen to sane voices.
In due course of time, the activist in me died a temporary death and I found solace in the books and research activities of the ivory tower. Little did I know that I, no monetary or macroeconomist, would continue my affair with Indian currency notes. The experience with the fake currency note took me back in time and made me fight for my rights, as well as ruminate further on the largely adverse impacts of demonetisation.
The image of a public sector bank ATM spewing out fake high denomination notes haunts me like a bad dream. Writing this story has been therapeutic for me. I hope, even if in a minor way, it awakens people about the need for economic catharsis and cleansing.
Likelihood of Foul Play at ATMs
I want to raise certain prickly questions — was the fake currency note an accidental product of the carelessness of minting firms? Or was it an act of dishonesty of the private firm employed by SBI to replenish its ATMs?
It is highly unlikely that the first option is the right answer; if it is, then the RBI is guilty of not putting freshly minted notes through standard procedural checks. I would like to give the RBI, an institution with a long, though recently challenged, record of non-duplicity and professionalism, the benefit of doubt.
This means that the second option of foul play in loading the ATMs is probably closer to the truth. This, in turn, points to collusion between such private firms and the counterfeiting industry.
It is quite possible that one out of every X genuine notes issued by the RBI is pulled out and replaced by a counterfeit note while loading ATMs. The smaller the value of X, greater is the black stash that such covert operations generate.
All this is, of course, entirely conjectural, but as an economist I am in the business of considering alternative outcomes which are by definition never certain and speculating on the relative likelihoods of their occurrence. It is up to professional journalists and reporters to determine whether I have unearthed a mountain of deceit or an insignificant mole hill.
Also Watch: How to Call a Fake Rs 2,000 Note From A Real One
(The author is a Professor and Coordinator at the Department of Economics, Centre for Advanced Studies, Jadavpur University. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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