Getting real about killer fakes

By Sanjiv Kataria, IANS,

Last week I spent the most nervous two-and-a-half hours of my life. I had just dropped my wife at the airport for a flight to Chennai in a low cost carrier. Back at home a big shocker flew into my face – my favourite newspaper reporting about airline pilots flying around the country with licences issued on the basis of fake certificates and reports of flying fright among a few of them. Next week when I fly to Bangalore as a customer of another Indian carrier I will at least be aware of the “Fly at your own risk” unwritten statutory warning from the Director General of Civil Aviation.

Support TwoCircles

Please don’t get me wrong, I don’t fake any surprises when I hear or read about fake currency notes, passports, visas or life-saving drugs. Nor do I mind the actions of the suspicious man at the cash counter of my favourite store, when he turns the Rs.500 currency note upside down, holds it against the light or runs his fingers over parts of the note. I have to thank my stars for having lost my hair early so that my shiny scalp does not have to suffer fake aloe vera shampoos.

Stories of fake encounters have got our soldiers real medals. Fake visas and passports have come out of the realm of spy novels and have recently led to radio tagging of Indian students duped by a fake university in the US. Only a few days ago I was happy to get an e-mail promising to get me a fake experience certificate in software. All I was expected to do was to send my resume to get a software experience embellishment to my otherwise uneventful marketing career.

While I may be happy, as a consumer, at the prospect of buying a fake Rolex watch at a fraction of its genuine cost in Swiss francs on the streets of Shanghai, any mother would fret at the prospect of her loved one being treated for a severe chest infection with a fake drug. Worse still, how does a patient find out that his doctor is not a quack who entered the profession with a fake medical degree?

Fakes or lookalikes are a big dent on companies’ balance sheets. Try asking the CEO of a pharma, FMCG or a branded garment maker what their biggest worry is. They would all point to fake or spurious products that are marketed by copying or slightly modifying the names and logo designs on the packaging. Spurious products eat away their market share, dilute their company’s brand equity and bring disrepute to the entire industry.

I have personally been conned into buying an Arrow or a Louis Philippe with an extra ‘R’ or one less ‘P’ in the logo at an upscale Gurgaon shopping centre.

Ask a banker what they wish away the most. Chances are that they would refer to fake currency notes and fake cheques. The estimates on the quantum of fakes vary from 20 to 30 percent of pharma products in the rural areas, five to seven percent currency notes in every 1,000 to about two to three percent in the branded garment industry.

While the government is proposing steps to curb counterfeiting by adding safety features like holograms, bar codes and so on, industry body FICCI has sought rapid action from enforcement agencies and stringent punishment for culprits. The Pharmaceuticals Director General has set up a helpline to check the authenticity of the medicines. The ministries of home and finance too are keen to clamp down on fake currency entering from across the border. Fake currency brings down the cost of creating crossborder terror for the enemy, making the fake currency menace the biggest potential killer.

The steps proposed by the currency department include introduction of safety features in raw materials used for making the currency (security thread, foil/stripe, fibre and taggants), software and processes (advanced watermark, software based note authentication system) and machinery (micro perforation).

India does not have the right infrastructure to undertake turnkey printing of secure currency. Ironically, there is no single Indian or global vendor who can produce ‘fake-proof’ currency notes in India – not even the India Security Press at Nashik.

The current system of procuring various components from global security printers and allied material suppliers or even large- scale printing abroad is not seen as a foolproof method to check counterfeiting, especially when they could also supply materials to security printers in neighbouring countries.

Setting up a secure currency printing zone that permits global manufacturers of inputs to set up operations in India could work. This complex could have captive companies that turn pulp into paper with all the security features and continue to add security features as it moves through the printing process.

After all, printing 18 billion currency notes added each year in India is not a small number that can keep terrorism under check in addition to bringing a smile on the face of customers of fake just-about-anything.

(24.03.2011 – Sanjiv Kataria, a strategic communications and public relations counsel, he can be reached at sanjiv.kataria@gmail. Com)