If you have a handful of old one-rupee copper coins stashed away in a dusty drawer or a piggy-bank, congratulations! You could soon become a millionaire. That is, if you believe some of the wild rumours circulating in the city.
News of this humblest of coins provoking all kinds of unlikely excitement was reported from Makran in this paper on Wednesday. It seems that the hysteria has now spread to Karachi, despite denials of the veracity of the story from the State Bank. The city is nevertheless abuzz with rumours about the sudden quantum-spike in the value of the one-rupee copper-coin, much to the annoyance of the city’s paanwalas and young kids selling ‘change’ at various bus stops.
“At least seven people have asked me for the old coins since the morning,” said Ahmed, a paan-shop owner on Tuesday. “I don’t understand what the deal is.” A man offered up to Rs. 1,000 for a single coin to Ahmed, who finds it anything but believable. And he is not alone. Many paanwalas and shopkeepers told the News about being piqued by people asking for the all-but-worthless copper coin that the State Bank stopped issuing about a year ago. There were also reports that the asking price for a coin had reached Rs 2,500 on Wednesday.
Mansoor Ali, chief business officer of the Pakistan Mercantile Exchange, said that he cannot say what’s behind such a rumour. “It’s true that the actual cost of producing the coin has become higher than its value due to inflation over the years. The coin actually costs more to manufacture than its one rupee value. But the price being offered today for each coin is absurd.” Ali added that in theory such a transaction is possible, if somebody gets hold of enough coins to make a few kilograms, and sells it as copper. In that case, he might well make a slight profit.
Nevertheless, according to copper traders, the international price of copper has not shifted in any major way in the last few days. “The old coin is 99.9% copper. But interestingly, the price of copper has actually gone down internationally. One kilo of copper is now available for Rs. 1,100, so the rumour is based on nothing but ignorance,” said Mohammed Farooq, owner of General Metal Shop, a local copper trader.
“A running racket and nothing else,” is how the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) described this new ‘gold rush’. Syed Wasimuddin, chief spokesperson for the SBP said that he first found out about the rumour from a regional Sindhi newspaper which called him for his version. “It started in the interior of Sindh. The rumour is that the government has inadverantly mixed gold in the making of the ‘brown’ old coins which it soon realised and immediately stopped issuing.”
Wasimuddin added, a few years a go rumours were also circulated about the Rs. two coin to the effect that part of it was made of gold “because it costs nothing to spread a rumour.” He advised people not to fall for such scams.
Later, the SBP was forced to issue the following notification on the issue: “The State Bank of Pakistan has categorically denied the reports/rumours appearing in a section of the regional press/media regarding the mixing of gold in aluminum/copper coins of Rs1/- & Rs.2/-”The Chief Spokesman of the SBP, Syed Wasimuddin, described the reports/rumours as baseless, highly misleading and mischievous. The SBP Chief Spokesman said “the exchange value of Rs. 1/- and Rs. 2/- coins will remain the same as per their face value”. He advised members of the general public not to buy or sell these coins at any price which is above their face value.
But it appears that this advice is not reaching people. A mobile credit vendor told The News that a group of young students came to him on Tuesday and asked for the copper coins. “I was curious, so I asked why they were looking for it; they said they got an assignment from their teacher to buy and submit the coins.”
The boys offered the vendor Rs. 50 for each coin, which the vendor unfortunately did not have; the students claim that the teacher will refund the money they will spend in buying the coins. —Ammar Shahbazi