Arguably the icon of the renaissance period of Bengal who continues to make the greatest impact on the society of the truncated state, Rabindranath Thakur (Tagore), and India’s 11th President APJ Abdul Kalam, also known as the Missile Man, are in the race to make it to the country’s banknotes alongside MK Gandhi, sources in the Ministry of Finance and IIT-Delhi said. Gandhi’s watermark figure occupies the pride of place on all denominations of Indian currency notes. However, the ministry and the RBI are also reportedly considering using the watermark figures of Rabindranath Thakur and Kalam on a new series of banknotes of some denominations.
This is the first time that RBI is mulling over using the images of famous personalities other than Gandhi on the currency notes. The RBI and the Security Printing and Minting Corporation of India (SPMCIL), which is under the Ministry of Finance, are learnt to have sent two separate sets of samples of MK Gandhi, Rabindranath Thakur and APJ Abdul Kalam watermarks to IIT-Delhi Emeritus Professor Dilip T Shahani and asked him to choose from the two sets and present them for final consideration by the government.
Government sources said that a final decision on picking one or all the three images will be taken at the “highest level”. They said the designs of the three watermark samples enjoyed official approval. No firm decision has yet been taken, but a move is afoot to explore the possibility of including watermarks of multiple figures on currency notes.
India is among the rare democracies where the face of only one figure from history is seen on currency notes. Different denominations of US dollars carry portraits of some of the founding fathers such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Alexander Hamilton and a few 19th-century presidents, including Abraham Lincoln.
Prof Shahani, who is examining the watermarks, specialises in electromagnetic instrumentation. In January this year, he was conferred with the Padma Shri by the Modi government.
Top government sources said that one of nine internal committees of the RBI, formed in 2017 to recommend new security features for a fresh series of currency notes, submitted its report in 2020, proposing that besides Gandhi the watermark figures of Rabindranath Thakur and APJ Abdul Kalam should also be developed for inclusion in all currency notes except the Rs 2,000 note whose printing had already stopped.
In 2021, the RBI issued instructions to its Mysore-based Bharatiya Reserve Bank Note Mudran Pvt Ltd and the SPMCIL’s Security Paper Mill at Hoshangabad to design their own sets of the watermark samples. Subsequently, the RBI and SPMCIL sent their samples to Shahani for him to examine them. Shahani has had several rounds of discussions with officials on the “finer aspects” of the samples.