Fake currency issue worries India ahead of elections

 

By: RAJEEV SHARMA

Fake Indian currency notes, or FICN as it is known in the intelligence/security jargon, is a menace that has been dogging India since the advent of cross-border terrorism almost three decades back. But now this menace is rearing its head in a big way at a time when India is in the midst of its 16th parliamentary elections.

There are no official estimates of how much fake currency is circulating in India but Indian intelligence estimates reportedly put the figure at around $6 billion. This figure is sizable when one takes into consideration that the upcoming Indian general elections are going to cost $35 billion, most of it in black money.

A decade ago, this figure would have been killing for the Indian economy — and indeed it was. But now when the Indian GDP is hovering around two trillion dollars, it should not worry India more than an irritating mosquito. But that is not quite. This problem has assumed serious dimensions given the classified Indian reports that much of this fake currency is being used in the ongoing electoral process in India.

Indian agencies are well aware of the dimensions of the threat posed by the fake currency and the fact that this highly organized racket is being run from near abroad. Indian rupee is printed in mints in four states — namely Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal.
The paper for the currency notes is imported from at least eleven companies in the world which are the global suppliers of currency paper. Most of these — to be specific, ten — are based in Europe, while the sole non-European company happens to be an American company — Crane & CO. Of these 11 companies, only one company, based in Switzerland, provides the security ink for the world’s currency needs and naturally India too depends on this company.

Indian agencies believe that some of the employees in these companies have been compromised and are responsible for anti-India elements to get access to the genuine currency paper. Since this vicious campaign aimed at bleeding the Indian economy white is being run from neighboring countries — and Bangladesh is one of these — it is important that India does something with the Bangladesh government.

This seems to be happening. The Indian government is working with its Bangladeshi counterpart to sign a memorandum of understanding to tackle the problem of fake currency.

This was stated by Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh at an event organized by Observer Research Foundation and Bangladesh Enterprise Institute, Dhaka, in New Delhi on April 2. The top Indian diplomat, while delivering the keynote address at the 5th India Bangladesh
Dialogue, said the Task Force on Fake Currency had conducted its first meeting in January this year and was now working on a MoU to be signed between the two countries.

The Indian foreign secretary pointed to robust bilateral relations between the two countries for her optimism in expecting concrete deliverables in Bangladesh cooperating with India tackling the FICN menace. She pointed out that the Indo-Bangladesh bilateral trade had gone up to $5.3 billion in 2012-13 from $3.7 billion in 2007-8 and Bangladesh had already replaced Sri Lanka as India’s largest trading partner in South Asia. Former Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty suggested that India and Bangladesh should try to form a council with prime ministers of both the countries as chairpersons and regional heads as members to solve the problems facing Bangladesh and North East.

Now coming back to the fake currency menace, experts feel that India needs to do more than what it has done so far and take radical measures which are in consonance with the rapidly changing technologies. To begin with, India needs to put in place highly advanced forensic measures which analyze the intaglio ink, watermarking techniques, security thread, and the paper used in fake currency. This would not only allow the Indian security agencies to maintain a comprehensive database of each fake note recovered but also take appropriate and timely action against the support networks.

India also needs to be pro-actively engaged with several other countries of the world which are facing the fake currency menace. These countries include not only the United States, but also the European Union, Canada, Australia and Taiwan.

Even the US is not unaffected by the fake currency menace. The American officials have complained that fake American dollars are being routinely printed by counterfeiters in North Korea, China, Russia and Latin America.

The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist and columnist who tweets @ Kishkindha.

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