Anjana K, a resident of the city, was surprised to hear the banker tell her that the amount he handed over while cashing a cheque was Rs 3 short, as he had no coins there. The local bakery and provision store cashiers had handed over sweets to her in place of short change, but a bank without coins?
Shortage of small-denomination notes and coins is predicted to hit the roof in the days to come, for the RBI has decided to close down its coin counters in the bank, on which small-time traders and merchants depended heavily upon.
The RBI’s Monetary Policy Statement 2012-13 had stated that ‘’it has been decided to channellise distribution of currency notes and coins only through currency chests or branches of commercial banks.’’ Further, on December 3, through a video conference, the Deputy Governor had informed the employees that the counters will be shut down by December end, RBI sources said.
Distribution through commercial banks is not going to solve the issue even in a minute way, as they have neither the space nor staff for it, say RBI employees, who are all set for an All-India strike on January 1. All recognised unions of the RBI will take part in the strike.
‘’RBI is moving away from the people. You see, there are as many as 200 currency chests and as many small coin depots in the state. Yet, 90 per cent of the coin exchange happens through the RBI counters. How can this not affect common man?’’ asks T K Thankachen, vice-president of the United Forum of Reserve Bank Officers and Employees.
RBI employees say that according to section 39 of the RBI Act, issuing of notes and all forms of currency is a function of the Issue Department of the RBI. ‘’This authority of the RBI Issue Department cannot be divested without an administrative order. And what about social commitment?’’ asks Thankachen, who also admitted that the possibility of RBI employees losing their jobs is also their concern.
Coin shortage has been hassling the traders in the city, for over a year now. While a bakery owner at Vattiyoorkavu put the blame on the ATMs that churn out only notes of large denominations, a small-time pan shop owner at Peroorkada alleged that the coins are all taken to Tamil Nadu, melted and made into razor blades. ‘’The one rupee coin would yield six to seven blades, making its total worth over Rs 30,’’ he said.
While the provision stores have the option of giving sweets in place of coins, flower marts and photostat-shop owners are left in the lurch. ‘’Even the beggars refuse to give change now. I have offered Rs 10 for coins worth Rs 9. Yet, they refuse to give,’’ said Ambili, a flower-mart owner at Peroorkada. ‘’We used to get coins from beedi-sellers on the wayside. But now even they don’t have change,’’ said an employee of the photostat shop in the neighbourhood.
Places of worship, be it a temple, church or mosque, are the only places supposed to have coins. ‘’The coin shortage reaches a peak during pilgrimage seasons like the Sabarimala season. We have no idea whether the Devaswom Board or the Church would give us coins,’’ said Hari, a pan shop owner at Vattiyoorkavu.
On the other side, Chalai Vyapari Vyavasayi Samithi unit secretary S Haja said that they are not overly bothered about where the coins come from as long as they get it.
‘’Coin shortage is a reality. But most of the time, at the RBI, we are subjected to several rounds of checking as if we have stolen the money from somewhere. So, if we can get the coins from the SBT or SBI, we are happy,’’ he said.
But will they, is a million dollar question.