Traders’ promissory notes gain currency

In an informal money exchange system, many traders in Bargarh district in western Odisha are issuing their own ‘promissory’ notes in the form of paper vouchers in lieu of Indian currency. Customers can show such coupons of a particular trader in any of its neighbouring shops for further transaction.

If someone buys articles at these shops, they would not return the coins or notes of smaller denomination such as Re 1, Rs 2, Rs 5. Instead, they issue pieces of paper bearing their seals and signature mentioning the amount. To unwilling customers, they convince that shops in the vicinity would honour these slips. “They never return the change. The vouchers would force customers to return to these shops again and again,” said Balakrushna Sahoo of Bargarh town.

Shopkeepers said they have to rely on such coupon system due to shortage of coins. “Re 1 and Rs 2 notes or coins are difficult to find. The coupon system is an arrangement with mutual understanding with the customers,” said a departmental store owner at Gandhi Chowk in Bargarh.

Apart from the district headquarters town of Bargarh, this trend is fast catching up in villages and smaller townships in the district. Most shops on Padampur road in Sohela block headquarters have been using their own vouchers instead of currency notes. “It is very difficult to find coins of Re 1 or Rs 2. It will be very difficult to run our business without such coupons,” said a shopkeeper in Sohela.

Economists described the practice as illegal. “The practice is unauthorized and violates customers’ rights. The coupons force customers to visit the same set of shops again,” said UC Pati, a economics teacher in Balangir.

Trader associations said there have been no complaints against this system. “We have not received any complaint from any customer regarding such a coupon system. But in any case, we advise shopkeepers to give toffees if they don’t have coins instead of coupons. The shortage of coins is a genuine problem,” said secretary of Bargarh District Merchant Association Pradip Debta.

Government authorities said they will look into the matter. “The matter had not come to my notice. Nobody can use a substitute to money. We will look into it,” said Collector (Bargarh) Bhabagrahi Mishra.

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