Why is the missing currency notes probe not in public interest?
A staggering amount of ₹23,465 crore seems to have disappeared between security presses and the RBI, if RTI replies are to be believed, but the Bombay HC dismissed Manoranjan Roy’s PIL
Ridiculed in the Bombay High Court and even after being mocked by officials, the unassuming activist from Mumbai refuses to give up his mission. Three months after Bombay High Court dismissed his PIL, late in June Manoranjan S Roy filed an appeal in the Supreme Court for a probe into what he believes is of utmost public interest.
The Bombay High Court thought otherwise. The PIL had pointed to large quantities of “missing or excess” Indian currency notes, purchase of gold by Government of India and sale of old currency note printing machines, all based on RTI replies received by Roy from authorities. But the high court told Roy, “there is no public interest involved in the matter”.
He was repeatedly rebuked by judges in the high court. “What’s your interest in this PIL” they asked. The question would be repeated by officials outside the courtroom.
Roy questions if the High Court was justified in dismissing the petition on the ground that it related to demonetised notes of ₹500 and ₹1000 denomination
He had filed the PIL in the High Court in 2015. When the petition came up for hearing in January 2016, Bombay High Court rapped the RTI activist for dragging Prime Minister Narendra Modi into the PIL. “He is the Prime Minister of the country. Not some leader of the Congress party or the BJP,” Justice Kanade told him, asking him to deposit a punitive amount of ₹10 lakh to prove his bone fide before his petition could be heard.
Though the court later relented, it ordered the names of the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister and the Ministry of Home Affairs as parties to be dropped. It also asked him to deposit an amount of one lakh Rupees.
Justice VM Kanade and Justice Swapna S Joshi dismissed the petition on August 23, 2016. On September 22, 2016, Roy again filed a Review Petition. In November, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced demonetisation of ₹500 and ₹1,000 denominations—rendering 86% of the currency in circulation invalid.
On February 26, 2018, citing demonetisation, the court again dismissed the petition, holding that ₹500 and ₹1000 had been demonetised and the relief sought in the PIL had turned infructuous. Roy’s PIL was based on figures provided by the three currency printing presses.
• While the printing presses informed Roy that 19,45,40,00,000 pieces of ₹500 denomination currency notes were sent to RBI, in its reply to Roy, said it had received only 18,98,46,84,000 pieces. This amounted to a shortfall of 46,93,16,000 pieces, valued at a whopping ₹23,465 crore.
• While in response to Roy’s RTI application, the printing presses said they had sent 4,44,13,00,000 pieces of ₹1000 denomination to the RBI, the Reserve Bank of India admitted receiving more: 4,45,30,00,000 pieces: An excess of 1,17,00,000 pieces valued at ₹1,170 crore.
Another RTI data for 2000-2011, from the Bharatiya Reserve Bank Note Mudran Pvt. Ltd. said it had sent 13,35,60,00,000 pieces of ₹500 denomination and 3,35,48,60,000 pieces of ₹1,000 denomination, but, mysteriously, the RBI apparently never received these currency notes, nor did it disclose details of the same.
The discrepancy in the number of currency notes claimed to have been dispatched by the three currency printing presses in Nashik, Dewas and Mysuru and the number admitted to have been received by the RBI, says Roy, calls for an investigation.
Roy questions if the High Court was justified in dismissing the petition on the ground that it related to demonetised notes of ₹500 and ₹1000 denomination. His interest is to plug the loopholes and strengthen the economy, he claims.
Referring to RTI replies, he states that at least 10 colour offset machines were sold to three different firms namely (1) M/s Flexible Packing Industries, Ambad, Nashik. (2) M/s Anupan Impressions, Amrawal, and (3) M/s. Prabhakar Brothers, Nagpur, under only onetender i.e tender No. 20/95 dated 06/06/1995. But then how were 16 offset colour machines sold for ₹12,49,800, he asks.
Roy’s plea also raises several queries such as total number of currency notes in circulation and whether RBI destroys the mutilated notes and re-prints the same series of new notes. In his petition he indicated possibilities of duplication of notes printed by the security presses, citing examples of different series of notes and their year of printing.
“Modi government’s demonetisation move was made on the grounds of unearthing black money and fighting terrorism, but the issue of misappropriation of large quantities of Indian currency notes, as available under my RTI applications, was completely ignored by the Bombay High Court,” Roy says in his petition.
“I had sought information from the RBI under RTI act about total number of Indian currency notes in circulation abroad besides the countries which are not accepting Indian currency notes. In its reply the RBI said it doesn’t have any such information in its records,” he informs
The writer is a Senior Correspondent with National Herald