Supreme Court seems to have realized the insurmountable problems being faced by people across the country due to demonetization of Rs 500 and Rs 100 currency notes. In the second hearing against the demonetization issue, the apex court severely castigated the central government for inept handling of the issue.
When the Narendra Modi government suddenly banned the two high value currency notes in the country on the night of November 8, it didn’t realize the magnitude of the problem, nor did it foresee the condemnation that it will face. Nonetheless, merely a week later, there are telltale signs that the government took the step in haste, making the lives of the common people miserable.
Hundreds of millions of people have to endure spending their entire days in long serpentine queues to exchange their hard earned money from banks. This is the only work that many people have been doing since then. Many have spent the entire week standing in queues, resulting in dozens of death across the country.
Senior journalist Iftikhar Gilani in a Facebook post says “As people continued to struggle to get cash on the ninth day after demonetisation, the death toll rose to 55. These are confirmed deaths reported in the national and regional media. The number of unreported deaths may be higher. While most deaths are of the elderly waiting in long bank queues, there are quite a few suicides, especially of house-wives”. Merely a day earlier, a school teacher in Bihar who had withdrawn several lakh rupees from his PF account for the marriage ceremony of his daughter lost his life after spending three days in queues in front of different banks.
1-Ban may cause riots across the country
Now the apex court in the course of a hearing said that there were fears of riots. There is no denying that there is wide-scale anger against the Union Government’s move in this regard. People in every part of the country are suffering badly from this sudden step. The Supreme Court said if the issue is not resolved “we will have riots on the streets.” This is the most serious observation that the court has made in a long time.
2-Lack of Rs 100 currency notes
Chief Justice of TS Thakur, in the course of the hearing said the problem is very serious. “You have scrapped 500 and 1,000, but what happened to the 100 rupee note?” the Chief Justice asked the government, which replied that ATMs needed to be recalibrated because they have a single drawer for Rs. 100 notes. It must be kept in mind that Rs 1000 and Rs 500 notes made as much as 85 percent of the whole currency notes in use throughout the country. The rest include Rs 100, Rs 50, Rs 20, Rs 10, Rs 5 and Rs 1 note.
3-Why the withdrawal amount has been reduced
The apex court questions didn’t end here. The Supreme Court looked very concerned about the well-being of the common people including daily wagers, rickshaw drivers, laborers, low-wage workers and older people besides housewives who keep their savings in cash and have large number of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes. People saving money at home didn’t keep the money in Rs 100 denomination, but only in Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes.
The government that had said that it wanted to raise withdrawal limit further, all in a sudden reduced the cash withdrawal limit to just Rs 2000. Justice Thakur asked the government “The last time you said you are working out relief but you have reduced the withdrawal amount to 2,000. What’s the problem? Is it printing problem?”.
4-Bench refuses to stop High Courts entertaining monetization cases
Supreme Court also refused Attorney General (AG) Mukul Rohatgi’s contention that the demonetization issue be heard by the apex court only. The bench said, “People are affected. People are frantic. People have the right to approach the courts,” noting that there are difficulties and “can you (the Centre) dispute”. The AG said there is no dispute, but the queues are getting shorter and even suggested that the CJI can go out during lunch and himself look at the queue. “Kindly go in the lunch time,” the AG told the bench and took objection to senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for a private party, for allegedly exaggerating the situation. “It’s a political attempt in the court. I have seen your (Sibal’s) press conference also. You are not appearing for a political party, but for an advocate. You are turning the apex court into a political platform,” Rohatgi said.
5-Relief measures are not enough
Given the Supreme Court’s tough stand against the measures taken by the government in easing people’s difficulties, it is clear that the court believes that the relief measures are not enough. At the outset, the bench questioned the relief measures undertaken by the Centre by saying, “Last time you said there will be relief for people in the coming days but you have squeezed the exchange limit to Rs 2,000 only.” “What is the difficulty? ” the bench asked Rohatgi. The AG explained the situation by stating that after printing, the currency has to be moved to thousands of centres across the country and ATMs have to be re-calibrated. But this didn’t satisfy the court. In the meantime while appearing for petitioner, former Union minister and renowned lawyer Kapil Sibal said that the government was not concerned about the people living in remote areas of the north-east, Himachal Pradesh and Naxal-hit district of Bastar where people have to walk for 20 kms to reach an ATM.