After sunset there is hectic activity in Mohabbatpur village in Malda district near the Indo-Bangladesh border, around 330 kms from Kolkata. Neatly wrapped brick-sized packets are lobbed from the Bangladesh side across the border fence. A young man waiting in the shadows catches those.
After a quick phone call, the youth jumps on his motorbike and carries the packet for about a kilometre before handing it to another person, who in turn, carries it forward like a relay race.
“The notes found in Malda had a number of security features compromised (most security features had been copied). They were also printed on Bangladesh stamp paper. It is difficult for the common man to spot the notes as fake,”
Within 30 minutes the packet reaches Farakka railway station. It can reach the Kaliachak bus stand on National Highway 34 in even less time. Within 24 hours the packet reaches various parts of the country including Delhi. It contains counterfeit high value Indian currency.
Within 100 days of demonetisation, Bengal’s Malda district, known for its mangoes, has become the prime entry point of fake currency of new notes into India. The National Investigation Agency and the Border Security Force have indicated that printing bases for fake notes have been established in Bangladesh. Until now, most fake notes used to come from Pakistan.
BSF officers point out that unlike the ones seized from other parts of the country, the ones found in Malda were not mere colour photocopies, but counterfeits printed in proper presses.
According to sources, as many as 10 out of 17 security features of a Rs 2000 note have been copied in the FICN, including the design, colour pattern, number pattern, see through water mark, portrait of Mahatma Gandhi, Swachh Bharat logo and slogan and motif of Mangalayan.
Out of the six seizures in Malda till February 28, the biggest one was on February 15 when BSF seized a consignment of 100 notes of Rs 2,000.
Security agencies have arrested a total of five men in the drive against fake currency in Malda.
“The notes found in Malda had a number of security features compromised (most security features had been copied). They were also printed on Bangladesh stamp paper. It is difficult for the common man to spot the notes as fake,” said P S R Anjaneyulu, BSF inspector general of police (South Bengal).
“We are co-ordinating with state police and NIA to fight against the menace of fake notes in Malda. We are also getting full co-operation from the Bangladesh government,” he added.
RBI estimates about 80% of the total counterfeit notes seized in the country enter through three Indo-Bangladesh border districts of Malda, Murshidabad and Nadia. Malda accounts for 80% of that amount .
Good rail and road connectivity with the rest of the country, proximity to the Bangladesh border, rising fundamentalism --- all make a heady mix to put this district of Bengal as the FICN (fake Indian currency notes) capital of the country.
On the other side of the border is Chapai-Nawabgunj, a district of Bangladesh which is equally notorious as FICN hub. NIA and BSF officers say the Bangladeshi district was earlier a launch pad to push fake currency from Pakistan into India.
“Now since we have found counterfeit Indian currency printed on Bangladesh stamp paper, we have information that fake currency printing units have mushroomed in Chapai-Nawabgunj,” said a senior BSF officer.
Malda has direct rail links with Delhi, southern states and Bihar and UP. It takes about 30 minutes to get into rail or take a road transport and head for various parts of the country. Crossing the Ganga it is also an easy way to reach Jharkhand quickly.
The Reserve Bank of India estimates that about 80% of the total counterfeit notes seized in the country enter through three Indo-Bangladesh border districts of Malda, Murshidabad and Nadia. Malda accounts for 80% of that amount that are pushed from these three districts.
Isha Khan Choudhury is now a Congress MLA from Sujapur, one of the places that act as a conduit for fake currency in Malda.
“A sizeable section of people (from Malda) migrate to Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Haryana and Gujarat for work. But family members prefer a youth to stay in the village and earn some quick money by working as a courier.”
“This is the situation for years. The kingpins are seldom arrested, but the couriers, who are mostly poor youths, are put behind bars. There is need of political will of the ruling party which controls the police. Opium farming, gun running and fake notes are controlled by a few crime kingpins,” Choudhury told HT.
With 51.27% of Muslim population, Malda is one of the three Muslim majority districts of Bengal. Most of the people work outside the state.
“A sizeable section of people migrate to Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Haryana and Gujarat for work. But family members prefer a youth to stay in the village and earn some quick money by working as a courier. There are villages under Baishnabnagar and Kaliachak police stations where the majority of the population, mainly youths, act as couriers of FICN. The ruling party’s policy of appeasing minorities has led to the growth of the menace here. said Swadhin Sarkar BJP MLA who won from Baishnabnagar seat in 2016.
On January 3, 2016, a mob of protesters torched BSF and government vehicles and vandalized the police station in Kaliachak. The police later found out that fake currency racketeers had an active part in the vandalism and they set the record room of the police station on fire.
A well-oiled machinery props up the couriers who deliver the FICN. A group of youths receive the money thrown from the other side of the border. Another group of youths divide the money in small consignments and courier it.
One courier covers around a km before he passes it on to another. “Each one makes around Rs 1000 to Rs 1500 for one trip, which is good money considering they are poor people. Bigger consignments are divided into smaller parts of Rs 2 to 3 lakh, so that if one gets caught others are delivered and profit is made,” said an NIA officer.
FICN dealers operate on both sides of the border. The rate for buying fake currency before demonetisation was Rs 40,000 for a wad of Rs 1 lakh face value.
But the rates have risen since the new batch of fake currency has started to hit the market. Now Rs 1 lakh of FICN is sold for Rs 60,000 to 70,000.
The ‘almost real’ fake notes of Rs 2000
“Printing fake Rs 2000 note is driven by economics. It fetches more profit,” said a senior BSF officer posted in Malda.
There is also a psychological angle. The Rs 2000 is a new concept and people are less skeptical about fakes. Many think that it is difficult to copy Rs 2000 notes.
According to BSF Bangladesh Government stamp paper is now being used to print fake notes of Rs 2,000. The paper is of good quality for printing fakes, since it allows colours, design and some security features to fit properly. The paper also lasts long in circulation.