It was the year 2003 and India witnessed a scam like never before. Rs 2200 crore, Rs 900 crore and Rs 216 crore. These are no ordinary figures. In fact these were the value of the seizures of the fake stamps that were seized in three separate raids and the mastermind was one man- Abdul Karim Telgi who is cooling his heels off in prison today.
One may remember clearly the government of the day in 2003 had decided to go ahead and ban both revenue stamps and fake stamp papers only because the fakes had flooded the market to such an extent that it was unable to control the menace.
The ban showed a defeat like attitude of the government and the only way it was able to curtail the free flow of so many fake revenue stamps and stamp papers was by banning it.
Banned but insistence continued:
The Karnataka government was quick to go ahead and ban revenue stamps. However the message did not go down too clearly and a great deal of confusion prevailed. A recent petition before the Karnataka High Court filed by a social worker, S V Desai sought a direction to banks not to insist on revenue stamps. Desai told the court that the use of revenue stamps had been banned in Karnataka, but SBI and other banks were still insisting on revenue stamps which were easily available in the black market.
He contended that revenue stamps were being sold at a price ten times higher in Karnataka after being brought from Maharashtra. He also told the court that in the absence of revenue stamps a franking facility had been introduced, but the same was available only in cities and not in the rural areas.
To his contentions, the government of Karnataka only said that the sale of revenue stamps had been banned which led the High Court to seek further clarification.
One ban leads to another scam:
With banks continuing to insist on revenue stamps despite the ban being in place, the people were put to great deal of difficulty. The vendors were aware of the plight of the people.
A Rs 5 revenue stamp was being sold at Rs 50. In the cities this problem was not that grace compared to the rural areas. The cities have a franking machine approved by the government of Karnataka and hence the problem was not that grave.
The rural areas saw a greater part of this problem since they were no franking machines and the people were forced to purchase the revenue stamps in black.
Black market flourished:
While the problem of revenue stamps was witnessed more in the rural areas, it is not as though the black market did not flourish in cities as well. The people found it easier to pick up a revenue stamp in black rather than wait in line for hours to get their documents franked.
The number of franking machines in the cities too was extremely limited and this only led to the queue becoming longer. It was obvious that in such a scenario the black market became a preferred destination for the people.
Government playing with fire:
Many feel that the re-introduction of revenue stamps will lead to another scam. The government has without a thought process decided to lift the ban. It took the government to clean out the system of fake revenue stamps almost six years.
The problem of fake revenue stamps may not be seen on a very large scale, but it would surely be there. The same black marketers who have been selling revenue stamps at five times the cost will find making fake revenue stamps an easier and cheaper option.
After all one must not forget the ease with which Telgi carried out his business. All he did was pick up the printing block in an auction from the Nashik press and his business flourished.
Hard to regulate:
There is a mad rush for revenue stamps in every place. These are sold in buik and often picked up by advocates, realtors in large numbers. There is every possibility that it would be marketed like fake currency on a 2:1 ration.
For every two fake notes, one genuine note is pushed into the market. Moreover the revenue stamp is much smaller in size and it becomes extremely difficult to tell the real from the fake. The government of the day just not have the measures to regulate the sale of revenue stamps on such a large scale.
After all it had banned its sale only because it had not been able to control the circulation of fake stamps. The Karnataka government must also learn from what happened with fake currency. The government of India was just not able to regulate the problem. It has decided to deal with the issue in an extremely defensive manner. First it decided to declare illegal notes bearing certain serial numbers because the largest number of fake currency was pushed in when that particular number was in circulation.
The ban meant that even genuine notes had been declared as fake. This was the only option before the government as it was impossible to tell the difference between the genuine and fake notes.
Message not clear enough:
The government of Karnataka appears to be inviting another problem with the decision to lift the ban. All it needed to do was send across a clear message to every financial institution not to insist on revenue stamps.
The other option was to introduce many more government approved franking machines. However it decided to sleep over the issue. To make matters worse documents with revenue stamps on it were considered to be legal despite the ban on the stamps.
Revenue stamps and stamp papers is a very lucrative market. The black market which has seen a turn over of Rs 3500 crore annually by selling revenue stamps at 5 times the cost will do its best to push in fake stamps into the market.
There is heavy demand for revenue stamps as it is extensively used all across the state everyday and with the absence of any checks and balances the market is bound to thrive. Even those involved in the circulation of fake currency will grab this opportunity and this could very well lead to the birth of yet another scam.