WHEN a thief enters a house, the watchdog barks. If the inmates do not wake up, it barks again, and then again. If the inmates still do not awaken, should the watchdog stop barking? This scribe is facing a similar dilemma. According to official sources, the threat of terror has reached new heights. The amount of fake Indian currency in existence today is huge. According to one national daily, in UP alone over Rs 40 crore is estimated to be in circulation. The CBI has confirmed that two sets of currency notes with the same serial numbers have been seized in branches of nationalized banks. It has claimed that the fake notes were brought into India through Nepal by Pakistan's ISI. The CBI has also confirmed that the fake currency notes are of such fine quality that they are indistinguishable from genuine notes. That is why branches of the State Bank of India can pass off fake notes as genuine currency. But, all said, can this happen if some bank officials are not complicit with anti-national elements? Elements that use the fake currency for crime and terrorism?
Every single element of this information has been written about explicitly and repeatedly by this scribe: he wrote these facts in March 2000, in June 2000, in March 2002, in July 2004 and in August 2006. All this time, the fake currency racket was expanding, but had not reached its present dimension. It was pointed out that fake currency greatly facilitated terrorism -- that it was masterminded by foreign powers. Indeed, it was pointed out that the sheer volume of fake currency, indistinguishable from genuine notes, could destroy India's economy without terrorism! It was pointed out, too, that the Reserve Bank's admission that it could not authenticate currency notes in a particular fake currency police case meant that, for all practical purposes, there was no legal tender in the country. Finally, it was pointed out that using the same machines to print currency notes and stamp paper was a procedure followed for both fake currency notes and fake stamp papers. The money thus generated in both scams was of course exploited by terrorists.
This scribe's involvement in the subject originated in 1995. A section of the bureaucracy made available to him information regarding the government's decision to purchase inferior and unreliable printing machines for manufacture of currency notes, thereby replacing machines of a tried and tested firm which had served the country well for over a hundred years. He filed public interest litigation against the RBI in the High Court of Judicature in Mumbai to prevent use of the new machines for printing currency notes. His plea was that the proven record of the new machines, Komori of Japan, endangered national security because fake notes not distinguishable from genuine notes could be easily manufactured for deployment by terrorists. To cut a long story short, the RBI accepted every single argument of the petitioner. It conceded that Komori machines presented "a risk factor" and "teething troubles". It admitted that the earlier machines, Giori of Switzerland, which printed currency for ninety per cent of the nations in the world, were markedly superior. It confirmed that the use of Komori machines in Russia had ended in disaster. The machines had to be abandoned for printing currency. Despite these admissions, all on record, the court rejected the petition. RBI's main argument was that the monopoly of Giori needed to be ended! Without a thought for national security, and the facts marshaled by the petitioner's counsel, the court rejected the petition.
An eminent lawyer argued for RBI. This scribe was acquainted with him. The lawyer impertinently suggested that this scribe's petition was in some way linked to those who were contesting the award to Komori on behalf of its Swiss rival, Giori. When the national security angle was drummed into his ears he said: "Why did you not approach me earlier?" Had that been done would he have changed his view of the case? Was that all that the case meant to him – a clash of sordid commercial interests? My respect for him fell many notches. The judiciary and the legal fraternity failed miserably in this case.
The politicians fared no better. Even before the public interest litigation was filed, Parliament had discussed the government's proposal to buy these new untried machines for printing currency. Among the several MPs who criticized the government's move was Somnath Chatterjee. But once Komori got the award the MPs lost interest. It seemed that they were interested mainly in the commercial aspects of the case. A Kolkata based industrialist was rooting for Giori to get the award. Dr Manmohan Singh was the Finance Minister when Komori got the contract to print currency notes. He maintained silence throughout the controversy. When a few years later it transpired that fake notes with the same serial numbers as genuine notes could not be differentiated even by the RBI, rendering the notion of legal tender defunct, Yashwant Sinha was the Finance Minister. He too remained silent on this affair. So, regardless of party affiliation, the politicians as a class failed miserably in this case.
During the decade or so when this scribe fought the case in court and wrote about the danger of fake currency in the media, not one newspaper highlighted the scandalous manner of awarding the contract to Komori for printing currency notes, and how this endangered national security. This scribe personally phoned and requested colleagues better placed than him, and occupying key positions in the media, to take up the matter. Not one obliged. So, the media also failed miserably in this case.
The National Security Adviser has revealed that there are over 800 terrorist cells operating in the country. With this kind of easy money floating around, should that cause any surprise? And with the easy attitude evident in the establishment to matters related to national security, as revealed by the fake currency scam, was not escalation of terrorism inevitable? The government took security steps to prevent exact replication of currency notes. These steps became effective after 2005. The fake currency notes therefore are dated before 2005.
Politicians, experts, retired bureaucrats and media pundits favour the enactment of tougher new laws to fight terrorism. They sound pathetic. Considering the approach to fighting terror revealed by the fake currency racket, do they seriously believe that new laws would help solve the problem of terrorism?