Finger mark order spawns a riddle

By: The Telegraph, Calcutta
Updated: 17 Nov 2016 08:56 AM
New Delhi: The Election Commission on Wednesday asked the finance ministry to ensure that the marking of the index fingers of people exchanging demonetised notes at the banks was done without affecting their right to vote in polls, such as the dozen by-elections scheduled on Saturday.

The finance ministry had yesterday ordered such markings with indelible ink to prevent the same person exchanging notes multiple times while the long queues prevented some others from doing so even once.

To avoid confusion at polling booths, it had asked the banks to mark the right-hand index finger of customers. Voters have their left-hand index finger marked at the booths.

But the finance ministry order and the poll panel letter have left some puzzles unsolved: what if the customer/voter lacks one hand, both hands, or fingers on one hand?

In its letter, the poll panel has cited Rule 49K of the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, which say the indelible ink should be applied on a voter's left-hand forefinger at the polling station before he or she is allowed to vote.

Sub-rule (4) of Rule 49K specifies that if the voter lacks a forefinger on the left hand, the mark can be put on any finger of the left hand. If the voter has no fingers on the left hand, the right hand option can be exercised.

This raises the question how a mix-up can be avoided if the person lacks one arm, or fingers on one hand, because the lone existing index finger will then have to be marked at both the bank and the booth.

The Reserve Bank of India, which put out some details about the inking process today, did not clarify what the banks would do if a person lacked fingers in his or her right hand.

If a voter lacks both arms, the ink mark can be applied on the toes, the poll rules say. But the finance ministry or Reserve Bank directives did not cover this possibility or specify which toe on which foot would be marked at the banks, leaving room for confusion at the booths.

The Madhya Pradesh chief electoral officer has chosen to pre-empt such conundrums by asking banks not to mark customers' fingers in the two constituencies in the state that will vote on Saturday. Poll panel sources said the officer had used her own discretion in issuing the directive.

By-elections are due in four parliamentary and eight Assembly seats across seven states on Saturday, including the Coochbehar and Tamluk Lok Sabha seats and Monteswar Assembly constituency (Burdwan) in Bengal.

Today, the Reserve Bank put out its fifth updated "frequently answered questions" (FAQs) relating to the demonetisation exercise, laying down the standard operating procedure for exchanging the old notes.

"The bank branch concerned... would put (an) indelible ink mark on the right index finger of the customer so as to identify that he/she has exchanged the old currency notes," it said.

The indelible ink will be applied before the old notes are accepted or the new notes handed out, so that the ink dries up while the notes are being exchanged, preventing its removal.

"Indelible ink on the index finger of the left hand or any other finger of the left hand may not be used as a pretext to deny exchange of old notes," the FAQ said.

The central bank said the procedure would be introduced in the metros and later extended to other areas.

In a circular to banks, it said the indelible ink would be supplied to the banks and post offices (where too notes can be exchanged) by the Indian Banks Association.

The circular said each bank branch would be provided with a 5ml bottle of black indelible ink. The cap of each bottle will be attached to a small brush for applying the ink. The cashier or any other official designated by the bank can apply the ink.

Yesterday's finance ministry order has drawn criticism, with people objecting to the restriction on withdrawing one's own money. Some have accused the government of treating everyone as frauds.

"Persons of doubtful integrity seek to mark us and insult our honesty. How can we trust a government that does not trust us?" asked Tushar Gandhi, great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi.

Rumours scotched

The government has denied rumours that it intends to demonetise Rs 100 and Rs 50 notes, seal bank lockers and freeze gold and diamond jewellery, PTI said.

"Baseless; no intention of cancelling legal tender status of notes of any other denomination," a tweet from the Press Information Bureau, the government's publicity arm, said.

On complaints that the colour of the new Rs 2,000 notes was coming off, the government said this was a security feature.

"Currency notes have a security feature called intaglio printing. The first test for a genuine currency note is to rub it with a cloth; this creates a turbo-electric effect, transferring the ink colour onto the cloth," it said.

The government dismissed claims that the Rs 2,000 note was fitted with a chip. It insisted there had been no leak of the demonetisation plan.