The RBI’s appeal against using banknotes to make garlands should come as a wake-up call to politicians.

The rains were unexpected, but business has been steady this morning for Ramesan, a flower vendor near East Fort. After handing out a small garland of jasmines to a customer, he absent-mindedly folds three Rs. 10 notes into a small square and puts it into the fold of his lungi, which doubles up as his moneybag.

Asked if was aware of the appeal to the public by the Reserve Bank of India to take proper care of currency notes and thereby help in increasing their life span, he shrugs his shoulders, flashing a ‘guilty smile’.

“We give it limited care during brisk business. Customers do bring in soiled notes and I accept them all unless they are badly torn. Folding the notes like this is a habit,” he says. But the RBI’s appeal, which was published on Wednesday, should cause more concern to politicians and their followers than ‘innocent offenders’ like Ramesan. It asks ‘the public not to use banknotes to make garlands, decorate pandals and places of worship, or for showering on personalities at social events’.

Such currency note garlands were back in the news early this year during the ‘Kerala Yatra’ led by Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president Ramesh Chennithala. A circular from the KPCC before the yatra, which was sent to its branches across the State, had asked party members to ‘welcome the KPCC president with currency note garlands. The money so collected will go to the party’s martyr fund’.

The money garlands during the yatra had raked up a controversy, though the amount involved was not even a fraction of that given to the former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, Rs.1,000 notes totalling Rs.5 crore, in 2010. A social activist from Kottayam had sent a complaint to the RBI regarding the use of such garlands at the yatra. “I had sent a complaint to the RBI with photographic evidence of Mr. Chennithala wearing the garland. This was not meant to be a personal attack against him. It was to send a message to all leaders. Note garlands are still used by most parties, even though there is an impression that the practice has waned of late,” says Eby J. Jose.

Those who have a habit of displaying their artistic prowess in notes or others who use them as an outlet to send out messages to the public had already been warned by the bank in a 2007 notice. It said ‘members of the public, institutions and others continue to write messages, etc., on the watermark window and deface the portraits on the banknotes. Such practices work against the clean note policy of the bank. It is advised not to write/inscribe anything whatsoever on the notes’. But these gentle warnings do not seem to have the desired effect. Pictures of ‘re-designed’ currency notes, some even having Gandhi in hep headgear, are still in circulation on several social networking sites.