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On display: Changing face of Indian currency

Thursday, 4 March 2010 - 1:38am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
RBI celebrates 75th year with special exhibit of old notes.

If you have to pay someone Rs 10,000 in cash, what’s the best you can do today? Hand over 10 notes of Rs 1,000, of course. Not in 1935, though, the year the Reserve Bank of India was established. Then, you could fork out a ten-thousander and be done with it. Or two fiver-thousanders, for that matter.

These Rs 10,000 and Rs 5,000 notes were 1.7 times the width of the current Rs 500 note, and also slightly longer. Also, the original Rs 10,000 and Rs 5,000 notes were British India notes and carried a profile of King George VI. His portrait was replaced with the Ashoka Pillar after India became a republic.

The RBI had to ensure that not all elements were changed at the same time, lest people used to the earlier notes refused to accept the new notes, believing them to be fake.

Recalling a similar incident, a Mumbai resident told DNA : “In 1969, when I offered the new Mahatma Gandhi series of notes in Trimbakeshwar, the shopkeeper refused to accept them.”

The old notes, and changes over the past 75 years to the Indian currency are on special display — to commemorate the completion of 75 years of the Reserve Bank — at the RBI’s Monetary Museum in Amar Building, Sir Phirozshah Mehta
Road, Mumbai.

Other interesting facts: The plural form of the word rupee was changed to rupaiya in Hindi only after the mid-1950s, while the phrase Satyameva Jayate was first inscribed on the Rs 100 notes issued in 1980. The first Rs 20 note, meanwhile, was introduced in 1975.

To guard against counterfeiting, the RBI has, over the years, introduced many elements in a bank note, called “security features”.

The thread running between the note is one of the most commonly known. But there are also watermarks — such as the faint prints of Mahatma Gandhi in the white space of the note — which can be seen against light, florescent ink, and intelligent marks or intaglio printing such as triangle, dot, etc to help visually impaired people identify the notes.

Then there is the case of the Rs 500 note issued in 1997, whose colouring was very similar to that of the Rs 100 note issued in 1996. This made differentiating between them a little difficult. Hence in 2000, the bank changed the colour of the Rs 500 note to its present fluorescent colour.

There were even periods when the government had to import notes!

The RBI exhibit will be open between 11 am and 5 pm till April 1, 2010, except on Sundays and bank holidays. Entry is free.

Those looking for old coins and the Re 1 note take note that these are not a part of the exhibition, as coins are minted by the Government of India, and the Re 1 note — even in paper form — had a status of a coin. It is for this reason that Re 1 notes were signed not by the governor of the RBI, but by the Union finance secretary.

However, these coins, notes and many other papers issued by various erstwhile Indian state governments are stationed in the main RBI Monetary Museum, adjacent to the special exhibit. The main museum will allow free entry until April 1, 2010, after which the usual Rs 10 entry fee of will apply.

Coming back to the Rs 10,000 note, why aren’t they in circulation? High denomination notes became a target of enemy countries who wanted to destabilise the currency, during World War II. The problem of unaccounted money or black money too killed these notes. To avoid such problems, the notes were withdrawn. Even today, only 4% of notes in circulation are Rs 1,000 notes.


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