Traders’ body Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) on Sunday said that in response to the issue around currency notes being possible carriers of viruses included Covid-19, the Reserve Bank of India has “hinted that ‘the currency notes could be carriers of bacteria and viruses including Covid virus’,” according to a statement by CAIT. The body had written a letter to the Finance Minister Nirmala Sithraman on March 9, 2020, seeking clarity on the issue but the letter was forwarded to the RBI. The latter responded to CAIT on October 3, 2020, over an email, a copy of which was shared by CAIT.
“RBI could not deny the fact and their reply fully indicates that the currency notes do carry viruses and bacteria,” the statement cited CAIT National President B.C. Bhartia and Secretary General Praveen Khandelwal as saying. RBI, however, in its reply to the letter said, “In this (currency notes carrying Covid-19 and other viruses) connection, we inform that the Reserve Bank, in terms of its clean note policy, provides good quality banknotes to the members of the public. With this objective in view, the banknotes received back from circulation are examined and those fit for circulation are reissued while the others (soiled and mutilated) are destroyed so as to maintain the quality of banknotes in circulation.”
Further, RBI advised people to use digital payment options such as NEFT, IMPS, UPI and BBPS through online channels like mobile banking, internet banking, cards, etc. to avoid the use of currency notes as much as possible. “Information on the introduction of any new type of banknotes will be shared in the public domain, at the appropriate time,” RBI added.
RBI in its annual report released on August 29, 2019, had said that value and volume of banknotes in circulation increased by 17 per cent and 6.2 per cent to Rs 21,109 billion and 108,759 million pieces, respectively, during 2018-19. The share of Rs 500 and Rs 2000 banknotes, which together accounted for 80.2 per cent of the total value of banknotes in circulation at end-March 2018, increased to 82.2 per cent at end-March 2019. RBI added that the value of Rs 500 banknotes in circulation increased sharply from 42.9 per cent to 51.0 per cent over the year. Also, Rs 10 and Rs 100 banknotes in volume constituted 47.2 per cent of total banknotes in circulation at end-March 2019 vis-a-vis 51.6 per cent at end-March 2018.
“The traders across the country are most vulnerable since handling of cash currency constitutes a major component of their businesses. Being alarmed by this fact, the CAIT has sent several communications in the past one year to Union Health Minister & Institute Council of Medical Research (ICMR) but they didn’t even bothered to even acknowledge the letters,” Bhartia and Khandelwal said.
CAIT urged Sitharaman to take steps to minimise cash usage and launch an incentive scheme for acceptance and adoption of digital payments. “The bank charges levied for digital transactions should be waived and the government should give subsidy directly to the banks in lieu of bank charges,” the association added.