Chillar party

With the introduction of new coins, a look at how small change is creating a big confusion

Kalpana Vora, a homemaker from Borivli reminisces about those days, when bus tickets would cost just 5-paise. That was Mumbai in the 1960s, when cost of living in the city was comparatively cheaper. "I used to travel from my home in Chira Bazaar to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST). That was during my school days. Slowly the rates escalated. In 1972 we had to pay 50-paise to travel from Chira Bazaar to Charni Road," recalls Vora. She further added, "My 74-year-old mother has a collection of old coins. Just looking at them brings a whiff of nostalgia." As years passed by 5-paise, 10-paise and lately 25-paise coins became redundant. New coins of different shapes, sizes and denominations came into circulation. While many consider this as a welcome change, a lot of people are finding it difficult to adjust to these new coins. "I usually travel by autos. Hence, I often have to carry change. When the new 2-rupee coin and 1-rupee coin were introduced, I used to get confused. I would end up paying the autodriver 2-rupee instead of 1-rupee. Over a period of time, I ended up losing a lot of money. I have become more careful now. I check the denomination before paying the auto driver," said Vora.

Illustration /Jishu

It seems caution is the watchword for many others too. Said Poonam Hudar, an environmentalist from Sanpada, "I am currently pursuing my PhD. So, everyday I have to travel from Sanpada to Worli. I particularly find it difficult to distinguish between 50 paise, 1-rupee and 2-rupee coins. Technically there might be some difference between the three but at first glance, all of them look similar." Concurs Dr Shubhalaxmi V from Goregaon, "I think that the authorities concerned should go for colour coding to make our life easier. Things are so difficult for us, imagine the difficulty faced by those who are visually impaired." However many feel that the denominations are quite distinguishable. "One just needs to be careful, that's it. I use public transport all the time. Not even once, I have goofed up. I think they look quite different. Moreover a 5 and a 10-rupee coin have a golden sheen, so I don't see a problem," said Chaiti Ghosh, a theatre actor.

Earlier, a 1-rupee coin had round edges whereas, a 2-rupee coin had sharper edges. The earlier 5-rupee coin used to be thicker than the current 5-rupee coin in circulation. Many feel that with the current 'uniformity' in place, the coins are difficult to distinguish. "It is all the more difficult for people who are blind. The new coins are a complete nightmare. Forget about people who cannot see, even  sighted people find it difficult to distinguish them. Those who passed the design have eliminated almost all the distinguishing features of the coin that previously existed.  Earlier 1-rupee, 2-rupee and 5-rupee coins were remarkably distinguishable. The situation gets all the more difficult when you are travelling in crowded buses. We have written to the departments concerned but unfortunately nothing has been done about it. The new design of coin that has come out defies any logic," said Dr Sam Taraporevala, Director of Xavier's Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged (XRCVC). He further added, "Moreover in a country like India, where illiteracy is so high, the authorities should be careful while coming out with new designs."

Many have invented their own methods to deal with this everyday problem. Said Parinaz Mubaraki, who works as a radio jockey and is visually impaired, "I carry a huge purse with different sections in it. I keep 1-rupee coins in a particular section, for 2-rupee coins I have another section and so on. I had to resort to
compartmentalisation to deal with this problem. All of them feel the same."

Professor Anil Sinha, principal designer and Faculty Training Programme in Graphic Design, National Institute of Design(NID) in Ahmedabad acknowledges that there is some confusion due to the new coins in the market.

Sinha explained, "This confusion is mainly due to the existence of different types of coins. A set of coins of a particular denomination has to phase out before another set is introduced. Currently, there are two different types of 1-rupee coin in circulation. You have 1-rupee coin with a rupee symbol on it; there is another type, where a one-rupee coin has an image of a hand giving the thumbs up. There are three different types of 2-rupee coin. One has a map of India, another one has a rupee symbol. There is another one with a peace symbol on the reverse side. This is causing confusion." Sinha, who has designed 1-rupee, 2-rupee and 10-rupee denomination coins says that coins are designed in such a way that it is helpful for those who are blind as well as those who are illiterate. "We design coins based on a theme. We also look at the visual appeal, so that people can easily relate to them," said Sinha.

Malcolm Todywalla of Todywalla Auctions says that the new coins are minted with an aim to reduce the cost of production. "Earlier 1 and 2-rupee coins were copper nickel. Those who understood the worth of these coins had started to melt them because their metallic value was more than their face value. Thus there was paucity of such coins in the market. The government then decided to start using stainless steel to make 1 and 2-rupee coins in order to reduce production costs," said Todywalla. But he emphasizes that the government should give enough time for the older version to phase out before releasing the new ones. "It's too short a span for people to get used to so many types of coins that are being circulated," said Todywalla. "Unlike in the US where you can easily distinguish between a cent and a dime, in India too the difference between denominations should stand out."

The authorities think that these are just immediate reactions. Alpana Killawala, Chief General Manager Department of Communication Reserve Bank of India (RBI) said, "The design is newly introduced so it will be too early to say anything."

It is now history
The 25 paise coin, popularly known as 'chavanni' and which first came into being in 1950, was made redundant in June, 2011. These are not accepted for exchange at bank branches now. With the end of the era for 25 paise coins, the 50 paise (half a rupee) is now the lowest denomination coin in public circulation. Other coins include those of denominations Rs 1, Rs 2, Rs 5 and
Rs 10. Most small denomination coins � 1 paise, 2 paise, 3 paise, 5 paise and 10 paise, vanished from circulation a long time ago because the government found the cost of minting them many times more than their face value.

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