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Court bans proxy change

- Chit instead of small change on bus
Metro: June 25, 2013

Calcutta High Court on Wednesday banned the use of coupons, plastic coins and chits with numbers scribbled on them as replacements for small change, a practice rampant everywhere from public transport to markets.

“Use of coupons, plastic coins and due slips by operators of passenger transport is illegal and arbitrary,” the division bench of Chief Justice A.K. Mishra and Justice Joymalya Bagchi said.

The court asked the state government to implement the order immediately and file a compliance report after four weeks.

The order does not mention the other practice of offering items like matchboxes, toffees, candies or cookies in lieu of small change at shops and toll booths.

The NGO India’s Smile had moved court against the system of using coupons, chits or tokens as a form of currency to tide over the shortage of small change.

One of the more commonly heard phrases in Calcutta now is “Khuchro deben (please give change)”. From grocery shops to shopping malls, paan kiosks to bookstores, autos to buses, there is no escaping the clamour for coins.

Bus conductors, auto drivers and shopowners are the ones most reluctant to part with small change, ostensibly because they are forced to buy coins.

Conductors on many private buses give passengers “balance slips” instead of change, which they can redeem while travelling on any of the routes mentioned on the chits or coupons. While some regular passengers might find such replacements for change practical, it isn’t so for those who might not take a bus on any of the mentioned routes for months.

Auto drivers even refuse passengers who say they aren’t carrying change.

In many shops, customers have little choice but to accept or buy toffees to make up for the lack of small change. The idea has gained currency to the point where many shops keep bookmarks, toffees or chewing gum handy near their cash counters.

The state government is required to issue a notification informing public and private transport operators about the high court’s ban and fix the penalty for any violation.

“Since all transport organisations have been made party to the case, the operators are probably already aware of the order,” a government lawyer said. “But the state would still have to issue a notification specifying what action will be taken against a person found guilty of violating the order.”

Since it is a judicial order, the government need not wait for the general elections to be over to issue the notification.

State counsel Shyamal Sanyal wasn’t present in court for much of the hearing, arriving just when the proceedings were about to end. He apologised for his absence.

Moving the petition on behalf of the NGO, its chief functionary Rajib Sarkar had alleged that some people were illegally earning crores of rupees by creating a coin crisis in collusion with a section of government officials.

“Due to the heavy shortage of coins, the transport operators are using coupons and plastic coins and forcing the passengers to take these coupons,” he said.

Documents were appended to the petition to back the allegation. “ Every month, the Calcutta Tram Company receives coins totalling Rs 2,33,80,000 from the RBI, which it distributes among the Calcutta State Transport Corporation, West Bengal Surface Transport Corporation and others,” Sarkar said.

According to the petition, the Bengal Bus Syndicate collects Rs 33 lakh a month in coins from the CTC while the Minibus Operators’ Co-ordination Committee receives Rs 36 lakh and the Joint Council of Bus Syndicate Rs 16 lakh.

This should have been enough to meet the demand for coins, the petitioner said.