The two RBI presses printed about 52 million pieces of notes a day since PM Narendra Modi ‘demonetised’ 1000 and 500 rupee notes on November 8, 2016. (AFP File Photo)
Income tax and intelligence officials have launched an investigation to see if an organised racket “virtually home delivered” new banknotes from government presses or the central bank to people within days of Prime Minister Narendra Modi scrapping high-value bills.
The probe was ordered after income tax officials held a man last month from a south Delhi market with Rs 20 lakh in new 2000-rupee bills that were packed and bore the seals of two government currency presses in Maharashtra and West Bengal.
The man, identified as Krishna Kumar, was probably a courier who was waiting at a Greater Kailash-I M Block market on December 15 to deliver the money when tax officials arrived. They had been tipped off by the intelligence bureau, government sources involved in the investigation told Hindustan Times.
Two senior officials of income tax and intelligence bureau told Hindustan Times that this was the first instance of cash bearing seals of government printing presses finding its way to the public.
“We need to ascertain where the leak came from. If the printing press or the RBI chest is compromised those loopholes need to be plugged. We are waiting for the RBI to share more information with us,” one of the officials said, using the abbreviation for the central bank.
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) didn’t respond to HT’s request for comments. But HT accessed the RBI’s response to intelligence bureau on the recovered cash: “these mini packs were printed at Salboni and Nasik presses.”
The interrogation of Kumar didn’t yield much since the currency had changed hands before reaching him. The man has been charged with potential tax evasion. He has been allowed to go for now because officials want to finish the investigation into how cash was “virtually home delivered” from mints.
The cash, which also included Rs 10,000 in 10-rupee bills, was seized by income tax officials. The role of cash management companies, which are used to move money from the RBI to banks, is also being investigated.
The seized cash pack bore the official seals of the Currency Note Press in Maharashtra’s Nasik and another RBI printing press in West Bengal’s Salboni. The two presses printed about 52 million pieces of notes a day since Modi “demonetised” 1000-and 500-rupee notes on November 8.
Packed into bundles of 1000 pieces of different denominations, the cash goes to the RBI chest from where they are sent to banks using currency management companies.
Those packs are further broken down into bundles of 100s wrapped in individual bank labels before they are given out to customers at branches or through ATMs.
Since the November 8 move, the role of some bank officials in exchanging the scrapped bills has come under the scanner. The Central Bureau of Investigation arrested two junior RBI officials in Bangalore for illegally converting banned currencies for the new.
“The protocol of cash movement from press to bank or an ATM is very strong, so a heist is impossible. Demonetisation was an unprecedented situation, so it is important to see if these protocols were relaxed during this period,” said Vipin Malik, a former member of the RBI’s board of governors.