Demonetisation. PM Narendra Modi's November 8, 2016 8:30 pm announcement swept Rs 15.41 lakh crore, accounting for about 86 percent of the country's total money, away from circulation. But what then happened to the demonetised notes?
One portion of it - more than 800 tonnes, according to our source - after being verified, sorted, shredded and recycled was sent to a factory in the North Malabar region of Kerala, where it was pressed into pulp to produce hard boards. Guess where the hard boards were then sent? All the way to South Africa.
The journey of the hard boards to the land that played a crucial role in the making of our Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi, whose face incidentally adorned the Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes that were demonetised, was triggered by a brainwave at the Reserve Bank of India's Thiruvananthapuram office. This was one among the 27 shredding offices opened by India's central bank.
A tender issued to Western India Plywood Limited (WIPL) one month prior to demonetisation went on to prove prescient and helped the bank when it came to disposing of the heaps of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 bundles that had suddenly landed at their doorstep. The bank promptly entrusted WIPL, situated over 450 km away in Kannur district, with the task of dealing with the shredded Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes. WIPL was only too happy to employ them in their daily production of hard boards and soft boards. 800 tonnes of shredded notes were dealt with in this fashion over a period of one year.
"Our association with the RBI began before the note ban. We decided to experiment with currency notes and applied for a tender with the bank. We had our first load in October 2016, even before demonetisation," a spokesperson of WIPL had told newindianexpress.com.
Due to the high quality of paper with which they are made, the demonetised currency notes, like all currency notes in circulation, were generally thick. The shredded notes were first handed to recycling dealers who converted them into 'briquettes' before returning them to the RBI. Briquette is the general term used to describe a compressed block of any combustible biomass material, mostly cylindrical in shape. The currency briquettes were then transported to the yards of WIPL at the expense of the bank.
Generally, wood chips are pressed to pulp for the production of factory hard boards, and currency briquettes are added to provide further strength. Because of the same reason, only a small proportion of the briquettes can be used in the production or else the pulp will get ruined.
Made from compressed wood fibre, hard boards are largely used in the construction and furniture industries. Though plywood is the major product of WIPL, they also have a separate section for hard boards and soft boards.
Compared to the wooden raw materials, the soiled notes take more time to get compressed. While the technical details were not revealed, it was confirmed that no additional equipment was needed for processing the demonetised currency notes.
Established in 1945, Western India Plywood Limited is one of the biggest wood-based industrial integrated complexes in South-East Asia with an employee strength of 1200. It continues to receive soiled notes from the RBI even now which it continues to use in making hard boards exported to many countries.