New Delhi: The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) on Sunday said the RBI had affirmed the possibility of currency notes as potential carriers of novel coronavirus and demanded government incentives for digital payments.

The development comes after the CAIT wrote a letter to Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on March 9, 2020, seeking clarification whether or not currency notes were carriers of bacteria and viruses.

However, the letter was forwarded to the Reserve Bank of India, which replied to the CAIT and hinted that currency notes could be carriers of bacteria and viruses, including coronavirus, and therefore more and more usage of digital payments should be done to avoid handling of currency, the confederation said in a statement.

The RBI further stated that “in order to limit the coronavirus pandemic, the public can make payments by sitting at homes through various online digital channels such as mobile and Internet banking, credit and debit cards etc and avoid using or withdrawing cash to the extent possible”.

According to CAIT national president BC Bhartia and secretary-general Praveen Khandelwal, the RBI’s reply indicates that the currency notes do carry viruses and bacteria and therefore, the maximum use of digital payments to avoid handling of currency notes was advised by them.

Furthermore, the CAIT urged Sitharaman to introduce an ‘incentive’ scheme for acceptance and adoption of digital payments.

“Bank charges levied for digital transactions should be waived and the government should give subsidy directly to the banks in lieu of bank charges,” the statement said, adding: “In due course, such subsidy will not be a financial burden on the government; on the other hand, it will minimise the expenses incurred on printing of banknotes.”

In addition, the CAIT pointed out that the RBI in its annual report released on August 29, 2019, had mentioned that “the value and volume of notes in circulation increased by 17 per cent and 6.2 per cent to Rs 21,109 billion and 1,08,759 million pieces, respectively, during 2018-19”.

“In value terms, the share of Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 notes, which had together accounted for 80.2 per cent of the total value of notes in circulation at the end of March 2018 had increased to 82.2 per cent by the end of March 2019,” the traders’ body added.

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