Printers expected a New Year launch for new notes, caught unawares

While both Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and the Reserve Bank of India have been at pains to emphasise that there is “sufficient stock” in the 4,400-odd currency chests located all over the country, officials of a key currency printer, the Security Printing & Minting Corporation of India (SPMCIL), admit the launch date for the new Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 notes caught them unawares. Top SPMCIL officials told The Sunday Express that they were expecting a New Year launch for the new notes, which were being printed in three shifts at two of its security presses from September onwards.

“The date in our minds was either December 31 or January 1 and we were surely surprised with the announcement that the new notes would have to be distributed in banks from November 10. And when this was done simultaneously with the banning of the existing Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, the redistribution process became even more complex,” said a senior SPMCIL official.

From September onwards, the official said, SPMCIL’s security presses – in Dewas in Madhya Pradesh and Nashik in Maharashtra – have been loading the new Rs 500 notes into currency chests. The new Rs 2,000 notes are being printed almost entirely in the two security presses of the RBI’s subsidiary, the Bharatiya Reserve Bank Note Mudran Private Limited – one in Mysuru in Karnataka and the other in Salboni, West Bengal. Together, the four security presses have a production capacity of over three billion “pieces” of currency every month.

On Monday, Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das chaired a high-level meeting in the Finance Ministry that reviewed the distribution of the new currency notes to banks as well as the withdrawals from ATMs. The meeting was attended by top officials of the RBI, SPMCIL, Intelligence Bureau, State Bank of India and Punjab National Bank.

At the end of the meeting, it was agreed that all security provisions for the safe transportation of currency consignments from currency chests to banks were in place and that state governments, too, were cooperating. For instance, Jharkhand and Bihar have pressed into service helicopters for the safe transportation of currency.

Though India produces some amount of current paper indigenously in its new Security Paper Mills in Hoshangabad, Madhya Pradesh, and in Mysuru, a large percentage of the currency paper and ink are still imported from a clutch of foreign firms.

In 2011, the RBI cancelled all supplies of the British currency paper major, De La Rue, following deficiencies that had cropped up in the security features. In April 2016, the Panama Paper investigations, published by The Indian Express, revealed the names of two Indian “agents”, who worked for foreign companies that supplied currency paper to India.

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