Evolution of currency denominations in India – From Rupee 1 to Rupees 10000

I came across this wonderful book – The Indian Financial System (1985) by RK Sheshadri, former Deputy Gvernor of RBI (1973-76). It is perhaps one of the most useful books to understand how Indian monetary and fiscal system has evolved over a period. It has amazing amount of information and facts which helps one know many aspects of Indian macroeconomic system and not just financial system.

From the book and other data available with RBI, I tried to draw a timeline of the various currency denominations in India. I have also updated it as his analysis ends in 1985.

This is how the timeline looks:

  • 1861       Paper Currency Act allowed denominations of Rs 10, Rs 20, Rs 50, Rs 100, Rs 500 and Rs 1000.
  • 1871       Allowed Rs 5 and Rs 10,000 which were issued in 1872.
  • 1910       Rs 20 discontinued as not much in demand. Reintroduced in 1972.
  • 1917       Re 1 introduced due to shortage of silver; discontinued in 1926.
  • 1918       Rs 2.5 issued for the same reason; discontinued in 1926.
  • 1935       Issue of Rs 50 discontinued due to lack of demand, reintroduced on 17-May- 1975.
  • 1940       Re 1 reintroduced.
  • 1943       Rs 2 introduced.
  • 1946       Demonetisation of Rs 500 and upwards.
  • 1954       Reintroduction of Rs 1000 and 10000 along with a new Rs 5000 denomination.
  • 1978       Demonetisation of Rs 1000 and upwards.
  • 1987       Reintroduction of Rs 500.
  • 2000       Reintroduction of Rs 1000.
  • 2016       Demonetisation of old series of Rs 500 and Rs 1000. Reintroduction of new Rs 500 and a new denomination Rs 2000.

Interesting to note that we had Rs 2.5 albeit for a short time as well.

Of all the denominations, Re 1 is the most interesting. It was first planned to introduce the note in 1893 but did not happen. It was finally issued in 1917 due to shortge of silver. As silver prices declined in 1920, these notes withdrawn in 1926. The notes were again printed in 1933 (in England) as silver prices rose dur to Silver Purchase Act 1934. However, the crisis receded and notes were not issued.

Though they were issued on 1940 due to again – shortage of silver. The issuance was done under the Currency Ordinance (1940). AS the ordinance was made during World War II, India and Burma Emergency Provisions Act 1940 amended the the 9th schedule of Government of India Act (1935). This allowed continuance of all the ordinances issued during World War II. Thus, it continues to provide the authority to Government to issue Re 1 note.

So much so, the Government stopped printing Re 1 notes a while ago, the ordinance remained much to surprise for lawmakers:

Remember the Re1 note, or the last time you saw it?

It may well have gone out of print, but an ordinance promulgated to facilitate its birth in 1940 is still in force, despite the fact that the Constitution grants no more than six months of life to an ordinance.

Notably, the currency ordinance issued by the colonial British government to print the Re1 note is going to survive, as it did two bids earlier when a finance ministry panel in 1997 and then the law commission in 1998 recommended its repeal on the ground that the note is no longer printed.

The parliamentary standing committee on finance stumbled upon the currency ordinance, 1940, recently while examining the coinage bill, 2009, aimed at replacing four existing laws on metal coins and tokens.

Flummoxed by its queer longevity, the committee headed by former finance minister Yashwant Sinha asked the ministry if the ordinance promulgated in 1940 was ever enacted as a law.

“No. The currency ordinance, 1940, was promulgated after passing of the India and Burma (Emergency provisions) Act, 1940, which provided that ordinances made during the period of the Emergency beginning June 27, 1940, (imposed to meet the exigencies of World War II) would not lapse within six months,” the ministry told the lawmakers’ panel.

“This made the currency ordinance, 1940 of permanent nature,” it said, adding that after Independence, the Indian government adopted it thorough a presidential order in 1950 to adopt various British laws.

An ordinance is a special piece of legislation made by the executive to meet an emergency when Parliament is not in session. But Article 123 of the Constitution stipulates that the ordinance will lapse unless it is ratified and made into a full-fledged law by Parliament within six months of its promulgation.

Asked by the panel as to why the ministry was not repealing it when it has stopped printing Re1 note, the ministry replied: “The 1940 ordinance may not be repealed as yet as one rupee notes continue to be in circulation though not being printed any more.”

The coinage bill, 2009, seeks to amalgamate four laws — Metal Tokens Act, 1889, Coinage Act, 1906, Bronze Coin (Legal Tender) Act, 1918, and the Small Coins (Offences) Act, 1971, into one comprehensive act.

So Coinage Act 2011 Section 28 says:

28. Continuance of existing coins

Notwithstanding the repeal of the enactments and the Ordinance specified in sub-section (1) of section 27,–

(a) all coins issued under the said enactments; and

(b) Government of India one rupee note issued under the Currency Ordinance, 1940 (Ord. IV of 1940), which are legal tender immediately before the commencement of the Coinage Act, 2011 shall be deemed to be the coin and continue to be legal tender in payment or on account under the corresponding provisions of this Act.

All this is so so fascinating.

History, law, currency, wars…there is a bit of everything in this. It is a pity we have not paid any attention to currency denominations in studying monetary economics. With the war on cash, much of this will be lost as well.

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