Never underestimate the power of the Indian one-rupee coin. It can give you a close shave, at least in Bangladesh.
Reserve Bank of India (RBI) officials here have reasons to believe that the Re 1 coins — they are “too much in demand” across the northeastern states—are being smuggled out to Bangladesh, smelted and transformed into shaving blades by local manufacturers there.
The preference is for glossy coins in stainless steel that began circulating across India since 1992, four years after coins of 10, 25 and 50 paise came to be minted in this metal.
The coin-to-blade theory evolved a couple of months back after Reserve Bank of India officials dug deep into the “excessive requirement” of Re 1 coins in Tripura, which shares a 856 km border with Bangladesh.
Officials found out that Agartala, Tripura’s capital adjoining the Indo-Bangladesh border, had a daily demand of nearly 2,000 coins like Guwahati, a much larger economy with thrice the population.
Seeking anonymity, senior RBI officials said they had information about the coins being smuggled out to Bangladesh in order to fuel the shaving blade industry there. They had subsequently crosschecked with Indian steel experts.
“Since the coins are stainless steel of good quality, they can be easily turned into blades,” an official said.
While intelligence agencies have not rejected the coin-to-blade theory, Border Security Force (BSF) officials entrusted with keeping vigil along the 4,095 km Indo-Bangladesh border said they have not come across coin smugglers.
“We do keep catching the odd miscreant trying to smuggle in fake Indian currency printed in or routed through Bangladesh,” a Border Security Force official said.
Notably, the Re 1 coin had begun its odyssey in silver, gradually being demoted to lesser metals.
It derived its name from the Sanskrit rupyakam meaning coil of silver.
The changes in its composition started with the quaternary silver alloy coins replacing the standard rupee from 1940 soon after the Second World War. In 1947, the silver alloy rupee gave way to pure nickel.
The high-inflation sixties saw small denomination coins of bronze, nickel-brass and aluminum-bronze alloys being minted in aluminum.
The aluminum coins were discontinued a couple of decades ago.