The Supreme Court came down hard on the government on Friday for not doing enough to ease the cash crunch in the country, warning that the situation was serious and people were still so anxious that there could be riots.
The government’s surprise decision to scrap high-value currency has led to chaos, with snaking queues outside banks and ATMs even 10 days after the decision. The bills accounted for 86% of all cash in the economy.
“People are affected and they have the right to approach the courts. People are frantic. There may be riots,” said a bench of Chief Justice TS Thakur and Justice A R Dave.
The court also refused the government’s request to put on hold petitions pending in various high courts challenging the decision to scrap Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 banknotes.
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“Multiple petitions show the kind of problems people are facing. They are going to high court for relief. If we shut them from going to the high court, how can we know the magnitude of the problem?” the judges argued.
Adjourning the matter for November 25, the court said it might move pleas pending in various high courts to the one in Delhi.
Defending the government move, its top law officer, attorney general Mukul Rohatgi, said steps had been taken to ease people’s hardship, but there were still some problems in moving cash quickly to banks, ATMs and post offices.
The top court’s rebuke was virtually echoed by the Calcutta high court which told the Centre that its near-daily revision of cash guidelines was harassing people. It asked the government to list relief measures taken so far by November 25.
The government, which has limited cash withdrawals, has struggled to keep up with the demand for money. Several people have complained that banks were giving them Rs 2,000 notes that were of little use in face of the currency shortage.
“We asked you to give some relief but you have reduced the exchange limit,” the top court said, referring to the previous hearing when it asked the government to ensure that people were not inconvenienced.
“Is there a printing problem?”
Trying to convince the court, Rohatgi said the government was aware of the inconvenience and, therefore, issued new notifications daily. But, it was not possible to give Rs 100 to everybody, the AG said, when the court asked him if there were enough notes.
Rohatgi also clashed with Kapil Sibal who is representing one of the petitioners to challenge the demonetisation move. He accused Sibal, a senior Congress leader, of turning the court into a political platform.
As Rohtagi listed steps taken by the government, Sibal said if the AG was to be believed then “there is swarg (heaven) outside”. “I can’t be denied my legitimate money of which the government is a trustee,” Sibal said, criticising the government for “freezing cash without replacing it.”
Justice Thakur asked both Rohatgi and Sibal to file their data with the court.
(Inputs from Kolkata)