RBI Announces Competition to Help Blind People Identify Banknotes – Something They Could Comfortably Do Before Demonetisation

  • July 5, 2024

Visually challenged people have to rely on others or an expensive smartphone device to be able to tell which currency note they’re holding.


By Shyamoli Jana

 5 July, 2024


Demonetisation not only killed people, but has also made the lives of blind people harder with the introduction of new currency notes making banknotes of different denominations barely distinguishable from one another by touch. Now after close to eight years since demonetisation, there is still no convenient solution available to the visually challenged. Recently, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has announced a competition seeking solutions for helping people with visual impairments to accurately identify banknotes, where the winner gets Rs 40 lakh for designing an “accessible, secure, cost-effective, user friendly and adaptable” device or solution that utilizes “technologies such as computer vision, machine learning, optical character recognition (OCR), haptics, or wearable devices etc.” for the purpose. But any solution that requires changing the banknotes in any way is not accepted.


At this point, one really has to pause and wonder about the colossal stupidity and shortsightedness involved in the exercise back in 2016 that caused the death of at least 115 people and threw the lives of almost everyone in the country in massive disarray. Prior to demonetisation, the Mahatma Gandhi series banknotes were easily recognisable by the visually impaired due to their very distinct tactile features that separated notes of one denomination from another. The new banknotes put an end to that convenience. Then in 2020, RBI released an app called ‘MANI’ that is supposed to help blind people tell the denomination of the currency note they’re holding through the very quick and convenient process of pulling out the phone, opening the app by either tapping on it or by voice control and holding the note under the camera when the app would either tell the denomination or vibrate a certain number of times. Of course, all that is a breeze when one is in a noisy place or in a rush to pay as is often the case on public transport. Many say that the app isn’t very accurate either.


So now visually challenged people have to rely on others or an expensive smartphone device to be able to tell which currency note they’re holding. Not everybody is above deceiving a blind person. Also, disabled people, whom the government very sensitively calls ‘Divyang’, aren’t exactly a category of people known to be flush with money, and smartphones aren’t cheap. On top of it, the app is time-consuming and unreliable. The government took a functioning currency system in 2016, shot it in the leg, and is coming up with one stupid ‘solution’ after another to make it run again. The latest one is this competition, where once again the demand is to create a new device or an app, which would anyway be much worse than what existed before 2016. In response to a PIL by the National Association of the Blind (NAB) about the issue of new banknotes and coins being difficult to distinguish, the senior advocate representing RBI said in 2023 that the power to alter banknotes rests with the Centre, and such a process costs a huge amount of money and is extremely complex and time-consuming. So now in 2024 the RBI is trying to solve a problem that the Centre created with a competition and 40 lakh rupees, where demonetisation cost lakhs of crores of rupees per some estimate. It would be funny if it weren’t so depraved and cruel.



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