As the humble chawanni receives a nostalgia-soaked send-off from many Indians following the Reserve Bank’s refusal to give it any more quarter, some are ready to put up a last stand for the little guy-turned overnight hero.
A BJP activist from Indore has moved court alleging the 25-paisa coin’s withdrawal from June 30 is illegal, while many others are dismayed at the silence of politicians and civil society on what they see as a “momentous decision with major financial implications”.
One hitch is already being encountered in Madhya Pradesh’s post offices, which are charging 50 paise for the 25-paisa stamps that carry Jawaharlal Nehru’s picture and are used mainly to send medical literature and newspapers by book-post.
Paan shops and small groceries have been rounding off the bills, as are petrol pumps for those two-wheeler riders who buy in small amounts. Neighbourhood photocopiers have raised the rate from 75 paise to a full rupee, the bara aana now having died with its lifeblood, the chawanni.
If all this sounds like small change, Bhopal-based industrialist and former head of a chamber of commerce, Rajendra Kothari, disagrees. He estimates that consumers in Madhya Pradesh would be losing Rs 700 crore a year because the 25-paisa coin has been abolished as legal tender.
His charge against finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, under whose watch the decision came, is that “no thought was given” to the fact that levies like service tax and value-added tax are calculated “in rupees and paise”.
“So, customers are being forced to pay extra for no fault of theirs,” Kothari said.
Bhopal civil judge Varsha Sharma has issued a notice to the RBI after BJP activist Anil Bhargava sought a stay on the chawanni’s withdrawal.
“Even some medicines are priced in rupees and paise. If the government doesn’t want the chawanni, why can it not announce that anything cheaper than 50 paise will not be charged and that anything over 50 paise will cost a whole rupee? It will at least even out customers’ expenses,” Bhargava said.
They will not admit it but at bottom, the reactions of Bhargava and Kothari may have less to do with economic arguments and more with sentimental affection for the underdog and nostalgia for a time when it counted for something.
Since last week, many ordinary Indians and celebrities have flooded social networking sites with laments for the quarter, recalling its role as their “tiffin allowance” at school, good enough to buy an ice-cream or chocolate bar —or at least a lozenge or toffee, if the writers are younger. Older Calcuttans will remember that the lowest tram fare was 25 paise even 30 years ago.
For all that, the use of the coins, introduced in 1950, had already gone down because of inflation and very few people seemed to have any to return to the banks on June 29 (unless they were holding on to them as keepsakes).