India Drowning in Sea of Fake Money

India Drowning in Sea of Fake Money
REUTERS/Jayanta Dey

What you need to know

Is India doing enough to detect fake notes, cited by the Prime Minister as a significant reason for withdrawing 86 percent of India’s currency, a process popularly known as demonetisation?

In 2015-16, only 16 of every 250 fakes notes in India were detected, according to an IndiaSpend analysis of government data.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi cited terrorism financed by fake Indian currency as a major reason for invalidating the Rs 500 (US$7) and Rs 1,000 notes that made up 86 percent of money in circulation. On Nov. 9, 2016, in response to Telugu film star Nagarjuna’s tweet praising “demonetisation” – as the process has been called–Modi tweeted:


Of the 90.26 billion Indian currency notes in circulation in 2015-16, no more than 0.63 million – that is 0.0007 percent , or seven-millionths of 1 percent , seven in every million – were detected as fake, according to RBI data. The value of these fake notes in 2015-16 was Rs 29.64 crore , which is 0.0018 percent of the Rs 16.41 lakh crore currency in circulation (one crore equals 10 million and one lakh equals 1 million).

Counterfeit Currency Detected, 2015-16
Denomination Counterfeit Notes Notes in Circulation Counterfeit (%) Counterfeit Value Total Value
2,5 2 11,626 million 0 Rs 7 Rs 4,069.1 crore
10 134 32,015 million 0 Rs 1,340 Rs 32,015 crore
20 96 4,924 million 0 Rs 1,920 Rs 9,848 crore
50 6453 3,890 million 0.0000017 Rs 322,650 Rs 19,450 crore
100 221447 15,778 million 0.000014 Rs 2.21 crore Rs 1,57,780 crore
500 261695 15,707 million 0.0000167 Rs 13.09 crore Rs 7,85,350 crore
1000 143099 6,326 million 0.0000226 Rs 14.31 crore Rs 6,32,600 crore

Source: Reserve Bank of India
Note: Assuming number of Rs 2 and Rs 5 notes to be equal

These data do not include notes seized by the police and other enforcement agencies.

In 2015, 0.88 million fake notes worth Rs 43.8 crore were seized, according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau tabled in the Lok Sabha (parliament’s lower house) on Nov. 18, 2016.

Rs 27.8 crore was seized until Sept. 30, 2016, the data further reveal.

Source: Lok Sabha

250 in every million notes fake, claims another study

The value of fake currency in circulation at any given time is Rs 400 crore, and 250 in every million notes are fake, according to this 2015 joint study by the Indian Statistical Institute and National Investigation Agency, to analyse fake-currency trends, especially those originating across India’s borders.

The study estimated that fake currency worth Rs 70 crore enters circulation every year, with agencies only being able to intercept one-third of it, the Times of India reported in May 2016. The detection of fake currency is carried out primarily by commercial banks, but such reporting is irregular: Only three banks–Axis, HDFC and ICICI–report about 80 percent of fake currency detected.

Cash component of black economy ranges from 3-7 percent

In 2012, the then Finance Minister of India Pranab Mukherjee wrote a white paper on black money in India, which revealed that the cash component of undisclosed incomes ranged from 3.7 percent to 7.4 percent, based on searches conducted by the Central Board of Direct Taxation.

For instance, in financial year 2011-12, of undisclosed admitted income of Rs 9,289 crore, no more than Rs 499 crore (5.4 percent) was found in cash, according to the white paper.

Source: Ministry of Finance; *As admitted

On Nov. 17, 2016, Sitaram Yechury, General Secretary, Communist Party of India (Marxist), tweeted:


Yechury’s claim was based on a Hindustan Times analysis of data from tax raids for the financial year 2012-13 onwards. Cash recovered was less than 6 percent of the undisclosed income seized from tax evaders, said the newspaper.

Data from income-tax investigation between April 1 and Oct. 31, 2016, revealed that black-money holders accepted having Rs 7,700 crore worth of unaccounted assets; of this, Rs 408 crore, or 5 percent, was cash. The rest was invested in business, stocks, real estate and benami bank accounts, the data showed.

In 2015-16, a year that reported the largest detection of black-money, 6 percent was cash.

“While, in the public eye, piles of cash are synonymous with corruption, we should be careful about distinguishing between the three components of black economy. The first is the underlying source of corruption. An example of this would be the high stamp duties on real estate transactions that lead to payments in cash. The second is the methods adopted for storing unaccounted wealth. An example of this would be holding assets in gold. The third element is the method through which transactions are effected. This could involve cash,” Vijay Kelkar and Ajay Shah wrote in the Mint. “The black economy involves all three elements. Targeting unaccounted cash on one particular day is only a small part of the story.”

This article was originally published in IndiaSpend. The News Lens has been authorized to republish this article.

TNL Editor: Edward White