India seeks a symbol for the rupee to underline its economic power

Andrew Buncombe
Saturday 26 June 2010 00:00

In a move that underscores India's increasing global economic ambitions, the authorities are poised to reveal the results of competition to design a symbol for the national currency, the rupee, and in doing so, emulate the pound, the euro, the dollar and the yen.

Last year the government invited entries for a contest to come up with a globally recognisable sign for the currency, which is at the moment usually written simply as "R" or "INR". The finance ministry's guidelines said that the new symbol should reflect the "historical and cultural ethos" of the country. It received more than 25,000 applications and whittled them down to a shortlist of five. Reports say the cabinet has now selected a winner and will announce the result imminently.

"All developed countries have a symbol for their currency. With India's fast-paced growth, it is important for us to have an identity for the rupee," one of the finalists, Shibin KK, a former designer who now teaches at a government school in Kerala, told the website. "It was a great experience designing the symbol for the rupee. The most important aspect was to keep the design very simple so that even the common man can understand it."

Another of the finalists, Nondita Correa-Mehrotra, an architect, said: "I think our rupee suffers from not having an identifiable symbol. With a symbol we would be poised to represent our economic liberalisation as, perhaps, quite soon the Indian currency will be traded globally."

Ms Correa-Mehrotra added: "The other reason for a symbol is visual clarity. At times we write 'Rs.' and sometimes just 'Rs', and the full stop after the 'Rs' often can be confused with a decimal point. Also, 'Rs' takes up two spaces. And these are just the problems in English – every Indian language has its own abbreviations."

Some confusion appears to surround the Indian design. The shortlisted finalists, who were told not to reveal their work ahead of the official decision, said five designs printed this week in Indian newspapers and were not the same as the ones submitted. The government has yet to explain the confusion.

The search for a symbol for the currency comes after the Reserve Bank of India recently published a study looking into the potential of the rupee to be used in international trade and even as a possible reserve global currency, given the problems confronting the US economy and the dollar. "India needs to take steps to increase the role of the Indian rupee in the region to catch up with the growing influence of the Chinese Renminbi," the study concluded.

A new symbol would also be a boost to those producing computer keyboards, mobile-phone keypads and printers. Computer software would also have to be rewritten to ensure operating systems recognised the new rupee symbol. "New keyboards will have the rupee symbol," said George Paul, an executive at HCL Infosystems, India's largest domestic PC manufacturer. "But we expect a time delay before the old format is phased out in banks."

Signs of Wealth

*The pound sign comes from an abbreviation – 'L' – of the basic Latin unit of weight, libra, translated as pound. The currency was so named because it was valued at that quantity of silver. Before the currency was decimalised, pounds, shillings and pence were routinely abbreviated to £, s, and d.

*The result of a European Commission competition, the symbol for the euro was inspired by both the Greek epsilon and the letter E (for Europe) "crossed by two parallel lines to 'certify' the stability of the euro". A retired designer later accused the Commission of copying his work.

*The derivation of the dollar sign is unclear, but there are two theories that it comes from an abbreviation of peso and that it is a combination of P and 8, standing for piece of eight. Other less plausible theories include the suggestion that it was a simplified version of the initials US, though the symbol predates the United States.

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