KARACHI, Aug 6: As the demand for fresh crisp currency notes — traditionally presented by elder members of a family to younger ones on Eid — always shoots up a couple of weeks before the occasion, many people have desperately been waiting since Aug 1 for the State Bank of Pakistan to announce the availability of fresh notes at their nearest bank branches.

The announcement was made this year on July 30, but most people since then have been frequenting bank branches in vain to get a couple of wads of the notes of Rs10, Rs20 or Rs100 denomination.

This reporter visited various bank branches and found that either the stocks had not reached there or the bank staff were unwilling to oblige everyone coming with such a request.

“Please come next week,” a cashier at Silkbank said from behind the glass when asked for only 10 new notes of Rs100 denomination.

“Do you have an account here?” the counter clerk of a Bank Al Habib Limited branch said. The cashier insisted that one has to have an account with the branch to get such a request processed. “We don’t deliver fresh notes to anybody visiting the branch,” he claimed.

“We are facing a bit of a shortage, please try next week,” said the cashier of a Muslim Commercial Bank branch, while the one at National Bank of Pakistan, too, shook his head in response.

The United Bank Limited appeared to be the only bank that did have the crisp notes at many of its branches. Responding positively to the request, the cashier at one of the branches said: “We don’t have them in abundance but you need only a few, i.e. in exchange for Rs1,000.”

A cashier at BankIslami said that he wasn’t allowed to give out fresh notes unless he was supplied with a copy of a national identity card. “We are only following the State Bank of Pakistan directive, according to which we are to have you fill a form along with providing us a copy of your CNIC before giving you fresh notes,” he said.

Asked why so much formality, the cashier said that this way the SBP wanted to ensure that the notes don’t fall into the wrong hands, which may see them ending up in the black market. “To prevent that, they can have the record of the serial numbers on the notes given away to such and such individual from the particular branch in case those very notes end up with the black marketeers,” he explained.

When asked about the punishment for selling the notes in the black market, he only shrugged. “I have no idea,” he replied.

The directive issued by SBP on July 30 stated that to facilitate the general public in obtaining fresh currency notes during Ramazan, SBP Banking Services Corporation (SBP BSC) had made elaborate arrangements for the supply of adequate quantity of fresh currency notes particularly of small denominations (Rs10 to Rs100) to the over 10,000 branches of commercial banks depending upon their branch network.

“For this purpose, the branches of commercial banks will issue only one packet each of Rs10 and Rs20 per person to the visiting general public account holders from Aug 1, 2012 till the last working day before Eid-ul-Fitr 2012 [or until the stock ends] on presentation of original CNIC along with its photocopy for record.

“Banks’ branches, however, may also issue a maximum of five packets each of Rs10 and Rs20 denomination fresh notes to their corporate clients on receipt of request on the company’s letterhead duly signed by the authorised representative ...

“The SBP BSC has put in place a mechanism for penalising the banks in case any irregularity is committed by them in the issuance of fresh currency notes. Penalty will also be imposed on banks found violating SBP instructions with regard to issuance of notes to the general public during the holy month of Ramazan,” says the directive.

Meanwhile, a quick trip to Bolton Market to visit the currency dealers’ shops there provided interesting insights. There was no shortage of fresh notes of whatever denomination one needed. The first showcase with all kinds of currency on offer had the salesman bring out some three or four bundles of fresh notes of Rs100 denomination, each amounting to Rs10,000. The only query from them: “How many would you like to buy?”

The profit or black market rate varied at different roadside counters. If one was selling 100 notes of Rs100 denomination for Rs10,200, another was doing the same for Rs10,500.

Asked about the difference, they said that the cheaper ones were sold to them earlier on lesser premium while the ones they wanted more for were bought only recently.

The fresh bundles of notes in all denominations are supplied to them everyday in huge quantities but for a price, of course. “Our profit margin is only Rs100 for the Rs100 bundle of 100 notes. If a bundle was sold to us at Rs10,100, we sell the notes at the rate of Rs10,200 and if it is for more, then we sell it for more as well,” reasoned one of the currency exchangers Mohammad Ashraf. “But the rates will increase as Eid nears,” he added.

He also added that Rs10, Rs20 and Rs50 notes were also quite popular as the lower denominations were used for showering money at marriage processions or for making garlands of notes. “The profit on them is also lower. For instance it is Rs80 for a Rs10 bundle as we usually buy that for Rs1,060 from our sources. Our profit there is only Rs20 per bundle,” he explained.

About their sources, another currency exchanger, who declined giving his name, said: “We get them from bank employees in black, and sell them in black, too, hence making our profit. It is a fine business, too, as you can see from the number of shops on this road. You’ll find even more up ahead,” he quipped.

The people buying the notes from the currency dealers, when asked why they didn’t get the money from their bank, said, that it was more convenient to buy the notes in black. “The premium, really, is not that much and I would rather avoid filling forms at my bank in exchange for just a few fresh currency notes to buy in black without any such hassle,” said one of the buyers.