Friday, October 22, 2010

Reserve Bank of India to issue ₹10 (10-rupee) polymer notes

While Googling around for news on the Rupee, I found some interesting articles about how the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has been trying to improve the production and distribution of currency. I was surprised to learn that a note only stays in circulation in India for 6 months before it is so dirty, torn or crumbling that it gets turned in to a bank for a replacement with a fresh one. We've all noticed that in the past few years, the number of such mutilated dirty notes that we handle has gone down drastically — none of the notes in the my wallet strikingly enough are in so much as a creased state which was unheard of a few years ago. I used to put this down to luck, but was enlightened by this article about the RBI's Clean Note drive that puts this down to active effort by the RBI than random chance. It also talks about how the coin situation has been drastically improved. In the past, coins used to be Holy Grail material. People would hoard them and would be loathe to part with them. Transactions would end up abandoned because neither party was willing to part with their much-prized 50p, ₹1, or ₹2 coins. While the tendency to hold suspect anyone who hands out a whole amount note expecting coin change in return, as having nefarious designs to finnagle coins out of you is still there due to the history of our experience with the dearth of coins in circulation, it is disappearing due to the abundance of these coins these days, again due to the drive mentioned above which has dramatically improved production capacity. As part of this drive, the lifetime of a banknote has also been extended as banks have been prohibited from stapling notes which they used to do with abandon earlier, leading to mutilated notes being put into circulation right at the bank.

Also interesting and the reason for this post, is that the RBI is expected to issue 100 crore ₹10 (Rs.10) polymer or plastic banknotes by the end of the year (another article about this). These notes have loads of top-of-the-line security features such as the see-through plastic feature seen on Australian notes which is nearly impossible to counterfeit, have much higher durability (RBI estimates a polymer note to last in the Indian market for 5 years as opposed to the 6 months a paper note does), can be washed and are very difficult to tear or otherwise mutilate. It is expected to save the Exchequer ₹580 cr (Rs. 580 cr) per year in production and distribution costs due to the frequent need to replace paper notes. I understand that the polymer technology would need to be licensed from the Reserve Bank of Australia which was the first central bank to introduce and fully convert to polymer notes in order to beat counterfeiters. While there are definitely problems seen in countries like Thailand and Mexico with the print on polymer notes fading in a couple of years, sticky notes being difficult to handle and so on, I'm still looking forward to the ₹10 issue - it's great technology, clean washable notes in my wallet will be a plus, I'm curious to see the design for these new notes, and I wonder how Indians will react to them.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Secularism rules!

I am so glad that the constituent assembly that wrote the Indian constitution gave us a secular republic. Yes, they did many things wrong - they should have called for a complete reconstruction of the civil services (the police for instance), should have written a uniform civil law and should have called for better structuring of affirmative action policies — but by clearly separating religion from state, they gave India, a country of myriad different religious viewpoints and identities, a stable polity to build on. Debates like this one where Pakistanis endlessly and fascinatingly debate the role of Islam in the country, just bring out in relief (pun intended) just how much Indians have benefited from a secular polity. And I say this, as a practicing Hindu.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rupee symbol (₹) now part of Unicode

The newly minted Indian Rupee symbol (₹) is now part of Unicode and has been assigned codepoint U+20B9 in the Currency Symbol block.While we await the OS manufacturers to ship out updates to add this symbol to their system fonts and also make it available for typing in when one installs Indian locales - the Indian government has apparently mandated ^⌥R (Ctrl-Alt-R) as the combination to be used to input the symbol - individual font designers have already come out with easily usable fonts for the symbol at the correct codepoint. The first one to be published is the Rupakara (रूपकारः) font designed by Mr. Michael Everson from Ireland and made available for free via an open licence. You can download it from these locations:

To use it on a Macintosh, download the 4 TTF files, select them all and open them in FontBook, and click on "Install Font" to install the font on the system. After you do this, you should be able to see the symbol correctly on any documents or webpages that encode it at the Unicode codepoint U+20B9. As a test, the following sentences should make sense to you and display the symbol correctly:
  • The evidence of massive runaway inflation is all around us: In Mumbai these days, you can buy a litre of dairy farm milk for ₹36 and a kilo of dahi (Indian yogurt) for ₹60 which is almost double the price a few years ago! Onions have gone from ₹7 a kilo in 2008 to ₹36 today!!
  • आजकल मुंबई में एक लीटर दूध का भाव ₹३६ है और एक किलो दही का ₹६०, जो कुछ ही सालों के मुक़ाबले दुगना है!
  • ₹36/litre = ~$3.15/gallon @ $1 = ₹43 as of today.
While you can view the symbol, in order to type it, you need to jump through a few more hoops, until Apple releases a keyboard shortcut for the Rupee (ideally, it should be (Option) followed by some key in keeping with the Mac custom). In the meantime, you have two options:
  • Use the Unicode Hex Input utility: This allows you to type in Option followed by the codepoint (20B9 in our case) to have the symbol encoded at that codepoint to appear. It's available in the Input Source viewer once you have enabled it through  > System Preferences > Language and Text > Input Sources.
  • Use the Character Viewer utility to pick out the Rupee symbol and add it to Favorites. Whenever you need to insert the symbol, pick it from the Favorites list and click Insert. You can also use the Clipboard for convenience.
If you have any questions about any of this, feel free to send me a comment. It's quite simple and straightforward, so Enjoy!