Ever since the evening of November 8 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes would no longer be legal tender, cash has been scarce, and rumours aplenty.
Here is a collection of some of the most bizarre and occasionally controversial rumours that have been circulating for the past 15 days.
1. Some people knew about demonetisation before it was announced
The morning after Modi’s big announcement (which came at 8 pm on November 8), several major newspapers carried a huge congratulatory message for the prime minister from online payment app PayTM.
The speed with which the PayTm advertisement appeared was the first of many reasons that set off speculation about whether the general public had been the last to be informed about the big decision. PayTm has proved to be one of the largest beneficiaries of demonetisation – since November 8, the company has seen a record of seven million daily transactions. It’s entirely possible that the company was just very, very quick to respond to Modi’s announcement.
This doesn’t change the facts, however: as far back as April, the State Bank of India said that rumours of demonetisation were prompting people to withdraw large sums of money in small notes.
Regional newspapers in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh also mentioned the fact that the biggest currency notes might soon be pulled out of circulation.
The Gujarati newspaper, Akila, later clarified that its item was an April Fool’s joke of the sort that it regularly plays on its readers.
Brajesh Dubey, a journalist from Kanpur who had broken the news in Dainik Jagran on October 27, more than ten days before Modi’s announcement, said he would not reveal his sources.
The Opposition has also alleged that an unusually large transfer was made into the account of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s West Bengal unit just prior to the official announcement.
Two days after the biggest currency notes were pulled out of circulation, a report in The Quint claimed that an image of the newly released Rs 2,000 note had been doing the rounds on WhatsApp months before the decision was announced:
“In September this year, months before Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the dramatic demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes with immediate effect, a mysterious photograph of what appeared to be wads of pink 2,000 rupee notes held together with white plastic tape, began circulating amongst select Whatsapp groups.“
However, in a latest clarification, the Press Information Bureau has said that complete secrecy was maintained, and there had not been any leaks.
2. The new Rs 2,000 note is GPS-enabled (but has spelling errors)
Introduced on November 8, the Rs 2,000 note appears to be the single most photographed, sought-after and scrutinised note in the history of Indian currency.
‘The Rs 2,000 note has a GPS-enabled chip’
Since the government withdrew the largest notes in circulation to conduct a “surgical strike” on people hoarding black money, a few wondered whether introducing a bigger denomination would simply make it easier to stash away illegal funds in the future.
Perhaps this is how that hoax about the new notes and their nano-chip GPS tracker began. The Reserve Bank of India has clarified that such technology, which would make notes “black-money proof”, does not exist anywhere in the world. But the journalists featured in this viral video claimed that while single notes of Rs 2,000 were not equipped with a GPS tracker, in a bundle, they emitted a signal that could be detected “even if buried 120 feet below the ground”.
‘The colour on the new note washes off’
On November 14, some people took the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan a bit too seriously, and began to wash their newly procured Rs 2,000 notes. Rumour had it that the new note, minted in a hurry, bled colour when rubbed with a wet rag.
Ever willing to experiment, several enthusiastic Indians made videos washing their new notes with Sprite, boiling water, and, just to be sure, even put their money inside a washing machine.
While the verdict was clear, the new notes did not bleed colour – this did not stop others from devising newer, more hardcore tests.
Finally, the Supreme Court said what was on everybody’s minds – if it is scarce, don’t put your money in water.
‘The new note has spelling errors’
Fresh from the laundry, the Rs 2,000 note was also accused of containing multiple spelling errors. A news report that quoted Urdu scholars, claimed the Urdu lettering on the note said “bazaar” (market) instead of “hazaar” (thousand).
On social media, eagle-eyed commenters also pointed out that the new note said “dhon hazaar rupaiye” in Devanagari, instead of “do hazaar rupaiye” (as the Hindi for Rs 2,000 should have said).
This too, proved to be much ado about nothing. The Urdu was not incorrect, and the line was in Konkani, not Hindi as was initially presumed.
Rumours about the typo had caused a fresh round of panic – that perhaps this batch of notes would also be withdrawn, and replaced with a colour-corrected, copy-edited batch. This proved to be false – the notes are still in circulation, and more are believed to be on their way to banks and ATMs.
But however nice it may be to have a new note that doesn’t bleed colour, do not believe the rumour that the new Rs 2,000 note has been declared “the best currency of the world”, like some Facebook users did.
This story, just like the story about UNESCO declaring we have the best National Anthem in the world, and the best Prime Minister in the world, was a hoax.
It isn’t smooth sailing for the new currency note yet.
The Finance Ministry may still have to respond to a PIL lodged in Madras High Court about the use of Devanagari on the new note, thus privileging North Indian languages over others. Besides, fake notes are already in circulation, and have shown up in Amritsar, Chikmaglur and Madhya Pradesh (where schoolchildren photocopied a new note to buy themselves several thousand rupees worth of sweets).
3. SOS – Save Our Salt!
Several parts of the country saw a run on salt due to panicked buyers purchasing double and triple the amount of the commodity they usually consumed, thanks to a rumour about an impending salt shortage triggered by demonetisation.
Police officers in Delhi said the rumour may have originated when customers unable to find change for old Rs 500 notes, simply bought extra salt. This rumour proved to be especially costly for the working class, which spent precious savings stocking up on salt as a result.
Finally, the Department of Consumer Affairs was forced to issue a clarification reassuring people, and asking them to refrain from buying excess salt:
“The total production of salt in India on an average is about 220 lakh tonnes. Of this, only around 60 lakh tonnes is used for domestic consumption. The remaining quantity is for industrial use and exports. Thus there is sufficient manoeuvrability to meet any unexpected localised shortage, if any.”
4. The Income Tax Deparment is conducting random raids
Major markets in Delhi’s Sadar Bazaar, Dariba Kalan, and Karol Bagh, as well as in the neighbouring states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan stayed closed for business in the days following Modi’s announcement, due to rumours of random Income Tax raids. These rumours were accompanied by the other, visible markers of demonetisation online – photographs of discarded bags of black money, hundreds of Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes, apparently spotted by passers-by.
5. Cancelled weddings
In addition to those allegedly hoarding black money, women and daily-wage labourers, families that had planned for winter weddings were among the worst hit by news of demonetisation. Several desperate families with impending nuptials, were temporarily heartened to receive a WhatsApp message that read:
“Important message: whoever has marriage in their house, can take the marriage card, to local area DCP and with his stamp can remove five lakhs for the marriage, please share for help.”
Unfortunately, the message turned out to be another hoax.
On November 17, Secretary of Economic Affairs, Shaktikanta Das announced that those about to get married would be permitted to withdraw up to Rs 2.5 lakhs from banks.
6. Still more currency notes to be demonetised
Reports that new Rs 100 and Rs 50 notes were in the pipeline triggered a rumour that still more currency was about to be demonetised. Before the news created a fresh bout of panic, the Press Information Bureau clarified that it had no intention to cancel the legal tender status of notes of any other denomination.
7. Stampedes outside banks and ATMs
While the queues outside banks and ATMs are serpentine, and some have died of exhaustion, heatstroke or heart-attacks while waiting in them – on the whole, people stayed calim while waiting for hours to withdraw their own money.
On Day 13 of demonetisation though, reports from Uttar Pradesh and Kolkata have indicated that crowds turned violent. The Supreme Court has also warned the government that if the situation does not improve soon, riots may be possible.
8. ‘There are no queues outside banks’
On November 21, BJP MLA Roopa Ganguly claimed that the queues outside banks were long mainly due to the Opposition, which had planted party aides outside banks and ATMs to make the situation seem more chaotic.
While Ganguly may have visited an ATM closest to a party office, this is certainly not true of every queue outside each bank and ATM in the country. Demonetisation has meant that the people standing in these queues are senior citizens worried about their pensions, women who could stand to lose their entire life’s savings, and daily wage labourers for whom every hour spent standing in line results in a direct loss of food and income.
9. Truckers and bankers to go on strike against demonetisation
Despite rumours of the All India Motor Transport Congress, bank employees and various other sections of the population going on strike – thus far, there have been no strikes against demonetisation.
10. It’s the death knell for banks lockers
Addressing Indian expatriates on November 12 during his trip to Japan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced further steps to curb black money and corruption. This statement was the beginning of rumours about the digitisation of lockers, and a possible freeze on gold and diamond jewellery. However, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has categorically denied these rumours.