Fake Rs 2,000 bills are entering India through Bangladesh, three months after the newly minted banknote was introduced as an upshot of the Narendra Modi government’s demonetisation drive to fight corruption, counterfeiting and terrorist funding.
But multiple confiscations of counterfeit Rs 2,000 notes over the past three weeks have undermined the shock recall of 500- and 1,000-rupee notes last November, wiping out 86% of the money in circulation in a cash-driven economy.
The demonetisation exercise has been called a watershed for a country saddled with counterfeiters pushing millions of fake notes into the Indian economy from neighbouring Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. Terrorists and governments hostile to India use the bogus cash to weaken the economy.
The latest attempts to restart the vicious cycle after the notes ban have set off alarm bells in the security establishment.
On the night of February 14, security forces foiled an attempt to smuggle a consignment across the fence on Indo-Bangladesh border. This was the latest and biggest in a series of attempts over a short span of time.
A Border Security Force (BSF) patrol seized a bundle of 100 counterfeit notes that was thrown across the fence for “miscreants” waiting on the Indian side. The criminals escaped, leaving behind the bundle.
“Our enemies across the border will not stop bothering us. They will continue to poison our economy … pushing fake notes is the best method to do it. It was just a matter of time that they copied the new notes,” said Arun Chaudhary, former Intelligence Bureau special director and former chief of Sashastra Seema Bal that guards the Indo-Nepal border.
The Bangladesh border is a preferred route because it is porous.
Of the 17 security features on the Rs 2,000 note printed by the Reserve Bank of India, 10 were found on the seized notes, according to intelligence sources.
More details would be known once they get the forensic report in a couple of weeks.
Preliminary inquiries by the BSF revealed that counterfeiters have managed to copy six front features —including the see-through register where the numeral 2,000 can be seen when held against light; the Devanagari inscription, portrait of Mahatma Gandhi, and the Ashoka pillar emblem.
They have copied four back features, including the year of manufacturing (2016), the Swachh Bharat logo, the value written in 16 languages, and the motif of Mangalyaan.
“The counterfeit notes appear to of a better quality,” said RPS Jaswal, the BSF deputy inspector general of the South Bengal Frontier.
The opposition Congress called the confiscations a vindication of its argument that the notes ban would not stop counterfeiting.
“It has been established now that Prime Minister Narendra Modi fooled the people of India. The recovery of fake notes has exposed India’s economic instability. Terror outfits, apart from economic offenders, are making hay and thanking the Modi government for this unprecedented bonanza,” said party spokesman Ajoy Kumar.
The first sample of fake Rs 2,000 notes was seized on January 23 by West Bengal police from a Malda village. On February 4, state police found two more notes in the area, and a stash of 40 four days later from a smuggler in Murshidabad.
On February 13, Umar Faruq, another Malda native, was picked up with three such samples. Based on his information, BSF foiled Wednesday’s attempt.
What sets these notes apart was that these look more like the original than those seized during raids in Bengaluru, Gujarat and Haryana, which were essentially colour copies printed on laser or inkjet printers.
“There is human as well as technical intelligence that samples of fake notes were printed in Pakistan and pushed into India to see whether they can gain currency without raising suspicion,” a National Investigation Agency official said.