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With the financial budget just out, and rounds of economic slowdown, the discussion on Indian banknotes exceeds from the economic valuation to an other wise underrated aspect.

Colour is perhaps the most eclectic metaphor for defining India’s vibrance, a nation of 1.3 billion people possess an unmatched variety that lends itself to the long and hard striving multiculturalism which in turn adds enormous value to the social and economic tenets of India. Among various determinants available to us, the greatest testament to manifest this valuation of diversity is surely the Indian Rupee note that has enshrined itself in the mind scape of every single Indian.

Ever since the advent of liberalisation, the Indian Rupee has acclaimed a new definition and an equally significant presence in every strata of life. The introduction of Credit, Debit Or Value Add on Cards had negligible affect especially in the non metro lands, where payment apps are still searching for their grounds.

The country is facing an unprecedented economic slowdown and BJP Senior Leader and lawmaker Subramanian Swamy has pushed for inscribing an Image of Godess Lakshmi on the bank notes to resuscitate the Indian economy. The comment has reiterated to ponder upon the design and layout of the Indian currency and a discussion on what does each banknote signify.

The Reserve Bank of India is entrusted to design the banknotes after the approval of the Central Government and regulates it’s management on the basis of Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934. At present the Reserve Bank of India issues the ‘New Gandhi Series’ which came into existence after the Demonetisation in 2016. Prior to this, we had the Mahatma Gandhi Series which replaced the Lion Capital Series of notes in 1996.

The Indian notes have undergone big changes from time to time, with the inclusion of Rupee Symbol(?) designed by D Udaya Kumar in 2012 and etc. While the Mahatma Gandhi Series was available in denominations of ?5, ?10, ?20, ?50, ?100, ?500, ?1000, the heaviest two are no more in circulation and were withdrawn immediately after Demonetisation came into effect. While, many of us still miss the Mahatma Gandhi Series, it was soon replaced by the ‘New Mahatma Gandhi Series’ which revamped the cash pattern.

While the earlier version of the Gandhi Series highlighted heritage from every crump of India, the series with intaglio prints, fluorescent number panels, EURion constellations and Mahatma Gandhi on the obverse began with the ?5 edition with a green color and tractor image on the reverse to highlight the agrarian values and Green Revolution, the ?10 set had a blend of Violet and Orange with an image of Rhinoceros, Elephant and Tiger to potray our rich wildlife, the Orange shades of Mount Harriet, from Port Blair became the ?20 note, followed by the ?50 edition in classic violet portraying the Indian Parliament House building on the back, the ?100 note has a unique shade as well with blue and green in centre and brown and purple on the sides, the Himalayas from the North get featured on this edition of currency, next we have the ?500 edition which features the Dandi March on the back in another fresh mixture of orange and yellow, finally we have the ?1000 edition which featured the Indian Economic tenets in an Amber Red with shades of black and brown. While the final two notes of this series are no longer in circulation, rest of the denominations are.

The New Gandhi series which was seen as a byproduct of the Demonetisation experiment seemed to replace the Gandhi Series, with few addendums and omissions in denominations and lots of changes in the layout and design, some important changes include the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan Logo,  centred positioning of Gandhi’s image and Microprinting. Starting with ?10 set, new Gandhi series features the Konark Sun Temple in Chocolate Brown, followed by the ?20 one in greenish yellow capturing scenes from Ellora Caves, the new ?50 cult has a fluorescent blue base with an image of Hampi with Chariot in reverse, the ?100 denomination has a lavender shade featuring heritage site of Rani Ki Vav, the latest addition of ?200 unit has a bright yellow base with an image of Sanchi Stupa in reverse, the ?500 note has a stone grey shade with image from the ramparts of Red Fort, the final and the largest denomination of the Indian currency includes the ?2000 note in a magenta shade featuring the accomplishment of Mangalyaan mission.

While every fraction of the Indian Currency has a different shade and featured image, the overall approach is to highlight the variety of the Indian nation with accommodation of all aspects, it is further endowed with a language panel of seventeen languages for the linguistic diversity we possess, in the languages namely, Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Malayalam, Marathi, Nepali, Odia, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu, these are in addition to the English and Hindi used on the banknotes anyways.

Our Indian currency is unique and has greater significance than the economic valuation, this must be preserved as the diversity we endorse in our economic aspects and social praxis of Indian life.

Faizan Salik

[email protected]

Image Credits: Shutterstock

With the advent of plastic money, e-banking, Paytm, cryptocurrency, and other digitised methods of payment, can India become a cashless economy?

With the rise of Digital India Campaign, and the growth of e-commerce in the country, it looks like the future of the Indian currency is moving forward in the digital sphere. However, this is not as easy as it may seem. With problems such as the country having an internet penetration rate of just 27%, as compared to the global average of 67%, only 60% of the country having bank accounts, and with 98% of the economic transactions by volume being done through cash, it is evident that the journey ahead is long and difficult.

Adding on to all this, India is a developing country with a very high poverty rate, as a student from the University of Delhi (DU) points out, “I don’t know what our Government is trying to achieve by Digital India when half the people in this country can’t even afford the internet. There are people suffering all over the country but nothing has been done about that”.

Along with this, cryptocurrency has been virtually banned by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), as stated in a circular, prohibiting banks, and financial institutions from rendering all services related to cryptocurrency in 2018. This, in turn, has also led to criticism from many who argue that the RBI has no right to pass this legislation on cryptocurrency, as it is not within the ambit of the Banking Regulation Act, through which the RBI draws most of its power.

In the face of all these statistics and opinions, why is the digitisation of currency even in the conversation? The positives of greater digitisation include paper trails which would make it harder to hide income, and would make finding black money easier, which was also one of the failed objectives of the infamous demonetisation done by the Modi administration. It would save the Government money, with the RBI currently spending INR 2,700 crores in the fiscal year 2018 on just currency issuance and management, it would be easier to conduct international payments, and the entire problem of fake currency would essentially disappear.

One of the arguments put forward against digitisation in India is that India is a majorly agrarian country, with most people depending on rural cooperative banks, most of which might not have an internet connection and the Government would not have the funds to provide it. However, this statement at its base can be proven wrong. According to the Indian Brand Equity Foundation, there are around 94,384 rural banks in India, as of the fiscal year 2017. Assuming all these banks do not have internet service, calculations of the initial cost can be made. Internet service would cost around INR one lakh for the initial licensing and legal admin fees, along with INR three to four lakhs to set up the infrastructure covering one square kilometre of the area around the tower. This leads us to a total cost of INR five lakhs on the highest end of the spectrum. Now, making the assumption that all rural collective banks do not have internet access, multiplying the number of rural banks with the initial cost would amount to around INR 4,719 crores or around USD 655 million. To put this into perspective, the Statue of Unity cost around INR 3,000 crores, and therefore, it is evident that funding this is not out of the reach of the Indian Government.

In this age of globalisation and technological revolution, the world economy and, more importantly for us, the Indian Economy is constantly changing and evolving. While digitisation of currency might be a part of this evolution further down the line, there is a still a long way for this country to go in order to make that possible, with work required in every sphere to even think about fully implementing it.


Feature Image Credits: 

Prabhanu Kumar Das

[email protected]