By Ajit Kumar Singh*
On August 7, 2018, a team of National Investigation Agency (NIA), Mumbai Branch, seized Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICNs) worth INR 434,000 from the possession of three persons at Aluru in Bengaluru in Karnataka.
The arrestees were in possession of 217 FICNs, all in denomination of INR 2,000, which were, according to an NIA release “similar to genuine Indian Rs 2,000/- [INR 2,000] notes and it is difficult for a common man to differentiate whether the notes are counterfeit or genuine. It is suspected that the counterfeit notes have been printed and smuggled from across the border.”
On August 8, 2018, during further follow-up searches, the joint team of NIA and the local Police, seized INR 250,000 from the possession of a woman in Bengaluru.
On July 31, 2018, an NIA team seized FICNs worth 192,000 from the possession of one Abdul Rahim, near Hotel Pabitra, Farakka, District Murshidabad, in West Bengal.
He was in possession of 96 FICNs, all in denomination of INR 2,000.
An NIA release stated, “It is suspected that the fake notes were printed and smuggled from across the border.”
Replying to a question, “whether it is a fact that huge quantity of Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICN) have been entering through Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal etc. particularly after demonetization; if so, the details thereof and the quantum of FICN seized, border-wise…”, Union Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs Hansraj Gangaram Ahir informed the Parliament on August 7, 2018,
As per the data available with National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICN) of face value of Rs.13.87 crores [138.7 million] have been seized in the states bordering Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh from 09.11.2016 [November 9, 2016] till 30.06.2018 [June 30, 2018] after demonetisation…
The Minister also provided State-wise details, according to which FICNs were seized from 17 bordering States, of which four – Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat – share borders with Pakistan; five – West Bengal, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Tripura, Assam – share borders with Bangladesh; and five – Bihar, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Sikkim, West Bengal – share borders with Nepal. In terms of value of FICNs seized, states sharing borders with Pakistan alone accounted for INR 73.3 million, i.e. 52.84 per cent of the total seized; followed by Bangladesh (INR 39.1 million), and Nepal (INR 25.4 million). Gujarat, which shares borders with Pakistan, topped the list with a recovery of FICNs worth INR INR 59.4 million; followed by Uttar Pradesh (INR 21.93 million) and West Bengal (INR 20 million).
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing the Nation in the evening of November 8, 2016, had announced his government’s demonetisation drive. The PM had observed,
Enemies from across the border run their operations using fake currency notes. This has been going on for years. Many times, those using fake five hundred and thousand rupee notes have been caught and many such notes have been seized… we have decided that the five hundred rupee and thousand rupee currency notes presently in use will no longer be legal tender from midnight tonight, that is 8th November 2016… The five hundred and thousand rupee notes hoarded by anti-national and anti-social elements will become just worthless pieces of paper…
Sadly, breaking the supply chain of FICNs from across the border, one of the objectives of demonetization, has given limited and transient relief. According to annual statistics provided by the Government of India, FICNs worth INR 215.4 million was seized between November 9, 2016, and December 31, 2017. [There is no specific data for period between January 1, 2017, and December 31, 2017]. This was 35.3 per cent in excess of than the recoveries made during 2016, when FICNs worth INR 159.2 million was seized.
The data indicates that the number as well as the face value of seized FICNs during the period November 9, 2016- December 31, 2017, was the lowest recorded since 2008 on ‘year on year basis’. However, the declining trend (in terms of face value of FICNs seized) set since 2013 was reversed in 2017, though the value is well below the levels in 2015 and earlier. According to Government statistics, FICNs worth INR 79.3 million (approximately) have already been seized in the current year (data till June 30, 2018). Seizures, of course, are just the tip of the iceberg, and FICNs in circulation are likely many multiples of the value detected.
Pakistan’s relentless involvement in the production and circulation of FICNs has long been established. SAIR also has highlighted the direct involvement of Pakistani authorities in such acts. Most recently, the NIA investigating an espionage case, case no. No. RC-02/2014/NIA/HYD, filed a charge-sheet on February 22, 2018, stating,
NIA has filed a Supplementary Charge Sheet… against Pakistan Intelligence Officer Amir Zubair Siddiqui (A-2), under various sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 and IPC for his involvement in the conspiracy to wage war against the Government of India by attempting to cause explosions in American consulate in Chennai, Electronic City in Bangaluru, Israel Consulate in Bangaluru and various places of public congregations in South India. Besides the above Pak Intelligence Official who was then working in Pakistan High Commission in Colombo, Sri Lanka as Visa Counselor, two Chennai residents namely BALASUBRAMANIAN @ BALAN @ BALU (A–4) and NOORUDEEN @ RAFI @ ISMAIL (A–7) have also been charge sheeted in this case for circulating High Quality Fake Indian Counterfeit Notes causing damage to the economic security of India…
Later, on April 9, 2018, the NIA put Amir Zubair Siddique on its ‘most wanted list’.
Circulation of FICNs remains a persistent threat. Not surprisingly, the NIA had been assigned to investigate at least 31 FICN related cases, as on August 7, 2018. This implies that (approximately) every seventh case investigated by NIA is related to FICN, with the total number of cases being investigated by the Agency at 215. Out of these 31 FICN cases, judgment has been pronounced in four; of which direct Pakistani links have been confirmed in three. In the fourth case, a Bangladeshi link has been established. Pakistan is believed to facilitate at least 28 important ‘FICN networks’, which operate out of Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Bangkok. Countries including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Sri Lanka and Malaysia have also been used as transit points. Apart from nationals from these countries, Indian security agencies have arrested FICN couriers from Somalia and Hong Kong as well.
Significantly, the NIA was created with a vision to create “deterrence for existing and potential terrorist groups/individuals. It aims to develop as a storehouse of all terrorist related information.” The FICN link to numerous terrorist cases, as well as the fact that Pakistan uses FICN to fund terrorism has brought this network of financial crime square into its purview.
The Government has taken several measures in the past to combat the menace. Informing Parliament about measures taken to deal with the problem of FICNs production and circulation, Union Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs Hansraj Gangaram Ahir stated on August 7, 2018:
- The production or smuggling or circulation of High Quality Fake Indian paper currency, coin or any other material has been made a terrorist act under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.
- The FICN Coordination Group (FCORD) has been formed by the MHA to share intelligence/information among the different security agencies of the state/centre to counter the problem of circulation of fake currency notes in the country. A Terror Funding and Fake
- Currency Cell (TFFC) has also been constituted in NIA to investigate terror funding and fake currency cases.
- A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed between India and Bangladesh to prevent and counter smuggling and circulation of fake currency notes.
- Strengthening security at international borders by using new surveillance technology, deploying additional manpower for round the clock surveillance, establishing observations posts along the international border, erection of border fencing and intensive patrollin
India has made significant gains in terms of controlling the menace of insurgency/terrorism across different theaters of conflict. To sustain these gains, terror funding needs to be checked. Production and circulation of FICNs have been used by forces inimical to India to fund the terror/insurgent formations in the country. The Government, consequently, need to sustain strong measures to deal with this threat.
*Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management