BANKS ON Wednesday started implementing the new plan to apply indelible ink on the index finger of the right hand of customers in select metro cities to ensure one-time, across-the-counter exchange of old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes of upto Rs 4,500 — any amount above that limit will be credited in customers’ accounts.
Officials said the move to tag customers would prevent black-money operators from using other people’s accounts to exchange old notes, although the latest step in the Centre’s demonetisation drive could impact those without bank accounts and having more than Rs 4,500 in old currency notes.
The limit of Rs 4,500 would be reviewed after November 24, said officials.
WATCH VIDEO: Demonetisation: Banks Provide New Rs 500 Notes
On Wednesday, 11 branches of country’s largest lender State Bank of India (SBI) and select branches of Bank of India, Canara Bank and the RBI’s Delhi office started using the ink on fingers of people exchanging old notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000.
A top official of the Karnataka government-run Mysore Paints and Varnish Ltd (MPVL), the only recognised producer of the indelible ink in India, said that it had received orders for 2.9 lakh 5-ml bottles, each costing Rs 116, from various banks by Wednesday evening.
“Some amount of ink that was available through the Election Commission (which uses ink from MPVL to mark voters) and other authorities was dispatched to banks on Tuesday through the RBI. We will be producing ink at the rate of 37,000 bottles per day for dispatch to banks. The total cost of around Rs 3.45 crore will be borne by the banks,’’ said C Harakumar, general manager, MPVL.
But with the indelible ink not reaching most branches, banks opted for other ways to ensure that the same people did not exchange old currency multiple times.
While some banks exchanged currency against a single ID card only once — the same ID cannot be used for the next 15 days for this purpose — the SBI’s headquarters in Tamil Nadu directed branches to use “dhobi ink”, or the ink used by washermen and women to mark clothes.
Among the ID cards accepted by banks are Aadhaar Card, Driving Licence, Voter ID Card, Passport, NREGA Card, PAN Card, and ID cards issued by government departments and public sector units to their staff.
People with multiple ID cards, though, were found exploiting a loophole to exchange old currency. “I exchanged Rs 13,500 using three different ID cards from separate bank branches today,” said a bank customer, who did not wish to be named.
B Ramesh Babu, chief general manager, Chennai Circle, SBI, did not comment on the decision to use locally available cloth-marking ink on customers in the bank’s Tamil Nadu branches. But Babu’s office said that an order has been placed with MPVL and that supplies were expected to reach all branches in the state by this weekend.
In Bengaluru, some bank officials said they were at a loss as to what is to be done if customers wanted to exchange the old currency in smaller quantities rather than the full eligible amount of Rs 4,500.
According to the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) issued to banks on Wednesday, the indelible ink “can be applied by the cashier or any other official designated by the bank before the notes are given to the customer so that while the exchange of notes is taking place, a few seconds lapse which will allow the ink to dry up and prevent removal of ink”.
The ink is being applied on the right hand of customers to avoid confusion during the upcoming assembly elections, when the ink would be applied on the left hand.
Finance ministry officials said the SBI’s Delhi main branch and others at Sansad Marg, Ajmal Khan road, Padam Singh road, CGO complex, Paharganj, New Rajendra Nagar, Tigri, Madangir, Sangam Vihar and Dakshin Puri have started using the ink, which is being airlifted to all bank branches.
But with the process expected to take time, a number of regional managers of SBI in Tamil Nadu said the decision to use “dhobi ink” was conveyed to branch heads by the bank’s Chennai headquarters during a video conference on Wednesday afternoon.
Many bank managers told The Indian Express, on condition of anonymity, that they have also received images on how to apply the ink.
The instructions on these images state: “Please buy DHOBI INK till you get it (original indelible ink) from Mysore (Mysore Paints)… mark to be placed on skin.”
However, bank officials said that employees at many branches were unable to procure “dhobi ink” from the market on Wednesday. They also expressed apprehension at applying cloth- marking ink, which has chemical combinations similar to that of dyes, on the skin.
“We don’t even know if it will lead to an allergy. The indelible ink from Mysore paints, exclusively used for elections, is made of a special chemical combination developed by the National Physical Laboratory,” said a regional manager.
“It’s not easily available in local shops, but we have no other option,” said another manager.
“Dhobi ink”, which doesn’t get washed off easily, is commonly used to tag garments and identify the owners.
MPVL’s Harakumar said that the ink would remain on the finger for a minimum of 30 days.