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Mint money through petty change!

By Syed Zarir Hussain and Sujit Chakraborty, IANS 

Guwahati/Agartala : Believe or it not, the Indian one rupee coin is worth at least seven times or more and a five rupee coin could fetch at least three times its real value. Canny traders in Tripura and Assam and some in West Bengal are minting money – melting coins and then manufacturing shaving blades and fountain pen nibs.

The modus operandi is simple – the traders have a chain of workers who collect coins from banks and other business establishments in bulk and then either melt the change in India or smuggle millions of the alloy of bronze, aluminium and lead to Bangladesh.

Officials refuse to speak on record but unofficially admit to being privy to the rampant coin racket in the region.

"As the border is very porous and smugglers of both countries have close links, there might be such illegal supply of Indian coins to Bangladesh. We, however, do not have any specific reports," V. Punnu Swami, the deputy inspector general of the Border Security Force, told IANS in Agartala.

Police in West Bengal recently arrested a trader and unravelled the operation. A coin-melting foundry was also uncovered.

Some touts in Assam and Tripura privately admit to being involved in this unscrupulous but lucrative business.

"First we collect coins of one-rupee and five-rupee denominations from banks, shops, beggars and wherever possible and then sell them to some big merchants. They pay us Rs.110 for coins worth Rs.100," a trader in Assam's main city Guwahati said on condition of anonymity.

Large quantities of coins filled in sacks containing essentials find their way to Agartala and from there are smuggled to Bangladesh.

"The coins are then melted in Bangladesh and made into blades and nibs. We were told they can make at least three blades from a one rupee coin, each blade selling for Rs.7-8," the trader said.

According to conservative estimates, the commission given to agents and the production cost per blade apart, the value of a one-rupee coin is estimated to be about Rs.7 and a five-rupee coin could earn Rs.15.

"What's wrong if someone can become a millionaire by trading in coins?" the middle aged trader quipped in a matter-of-fact manner.

The racket has led to a severe coin shortage in the region.

"We have been releasing sufficient coins to the banks and if at all coins are being melted, it is the responsibility of the law enforcing agencies," S.K. Gupta, deputy general manager of the Reserve Bank of India in Guwahati, told IANS.

Local banks admit to the artificial coin crunch.

"We have been supplying huge quantities of coins of various denominations to the markets, but there has always been a shortage of coins. Where are these coins going?" asked Santosh Ranjan Das, chief manager of the Agartala branch of State Bank of India.

Such is the scarcity of coins that most shops in the region offer a toffee if one is to get back 50 paise after a purchase.

"Security and intelligence agencies should be more vigilant about smuggling of Indian coins to Bangladesh," Tripura Chamber of Commerce and Industry president M.L. Debnath said.

The smuggling of contraband coins to Bangladesh through Tripura has been going on for years now although police and the Border Security Force (BSF) were yet to make any arrests or seizures.

"We do get reports of smuggling of Indian coins to Bangladesh, but no seizures were made so far. Our Mobile Task Force keep a close watch along the border about any kind of illegal activity," Tripura police spokesperson Nepal Das said.