Close encounters with black money............

Close encounters with black money............

Being a student of science, until I joined the bank, the term black money had baffled me quite a bit. I had heard the grown ups talking about the share of white and black when they discussed some land deals.  But when hard cash in genuine currency notes is given , I wondered how it became " black" which denotes something bad......?  White was always considered pure and good right from early days. This notion started from the colour of milk I drank, paper I wrote on , shirt I wore to school and so on.....

A fair understanding of it came when I started learning a bit of Economics after joining the Bank. But my attitude towards that genre remained ambivalent because of its the wide prevalence.

My initial encounter with it was during the first Diwali in North India. I was assigned the duties as a custodian of safe deposit vault of the branch. I thought it was a very easy job to give access to customers to the vault after verifying the signature. The average foot falls on normal days was between ten and twenty. I was really taken aback when there was a stream of visitors to the vault on the day before the Diwali. There was a big line to open the vault and take away the valuables. Generally the access to the vault was restricted to one person at a time to ensure privacy. But I had to let in more than one with their permission to regulate the crowd. It was a practice for the custodian to walk away without looking at the contents of the vault after applying the master key. But that day,  I had to witness to people were taking out bundles of hard cash from the vault. Later I went to the manager and told  about it. I also suggested that people with lots of cash in the vaults could be tapped for good deposits. He laughed at me and explained that we would never get such money as deposits. " It's Lakshmi." ....he said..." You come with me tomorrow for the Pooja  and see what happens..."

I did go for the Diwali Pooja in the house of a few of the high net worth trader customers. And I saw for the first time bundles of currency notes being kept behind the lamps in the prayer room . The notes were garlanded and treated like the idol of the temple. I was told that money is nothing short of " Goddess Lakshmi...."

The bundles were promptly kept back in the vaults a couple of days after the Diwali Pooja. But even my manager could not confirm that such money stacked in the vaults could be called black money.

Later I understood that black money was unaccounted money not shown in the balance sheet of the business. But none told me that bankers could not accept or handle it. The black money became my saviour in the following instance.

In that rural village,  my bank branch and the branch of State Bank vied against each other for business. The relationship had soured much beyond healthy competition of business into the form of a rivalry between us. The business figures stood neck to neck. On a Saturday afternoon an NRI customer came to draw about fifteen lacs from his account to fix a land deal. The seller also came to the branch to receive the cash.  Since there was no sufficient cash with us , the cashier was sent to State Bank for drawing cash. Our bank was maintaining account with them to facilitate cash management.  Since it was beyond banking hours, they refused cash disbursement. Needless to add that the rigidity of State bank was as result of the cold war ( no, it was real war ) between us. I was really in a fix. My efforts to persuade the seller opening an account with our branch also did not succeed.

I contacted a few of the traders to remit cash in their accounts with the branch. A few of them were ready to help me. But they were not prepared to remit it in their accounts. One of them even handed over the hard cash and told me to use it for two days and return it on next Monday. I was in a bad predicament. Ultimately I found a way out. I made him purchase a demand draft for the amount . The money was used to pay the NRI customer. The draft was cancelled on Monday and cash was returned.  If I were to do this today, it would have generated a grave audit remark.....!

My most interesting experience with black money was in a place where it was generated through something very black in colour........coal in Bihar. During the inspection of branches I could find that almost all the branches achieved the targets for deposits. I was very particular to find out whether it was through a process called window dressing. But here, the operation was much simpler. During the last week of the year about thirty to forty savings bank accounts in different names were opened with cash deposits of five to ten lakhs of rupees. This process increased the savings balance by at least three to four crores. The yearly closing figures showed a commendable increase in figures. Within a few days after the year end, ôthese accounts got closed and cash withdrawn. All the accounts were duly " introduced." Those days it was not compulsory to collect the photograph and the KYC documents while opening  the accounts. Through this process, the customer (?) , Manager, the controlling officials .....all were happy to have achieved the year end deposit targets. If any one has not guessed the colour of the monies used, please have a relook at the title of the story.

8th November, 2016. As I was watching the TV, the announcement from the Prime minister came to say that the currency notes of rupees five hundred and one thousand would cease to be legal tender from that midnight. Within a few seconds,  I did rush to the nearest ATM and withdraw cash in hundreds to overcome the crisis anticipated. That move stood in good stead to tide over the next few days when people stood for hours in front of banks all over to exchange notes.

What happened since then is part of History. Two years down the line, it's for all of us to infer whether the hardship people had to undergo was worth it and whether the black money has been eradicated........(?).However the new currency notes printed are in various colours other than black.........if that can be a solace.......!