The Supreme Court on Friday warned that there “may be riots” and refused the government’s plea to stay cases filed against demonetization in High Courts and lower courts across the country, saying ‘how can we shut our doors to people when there is a problem of such magnitude.”
A Bench led by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur noted that people have started becoming “frantic” for money, braving queues for hours. The very fact that cases are being filed in courts all over is a signal that the problem is “serious and of magnitude,” it observed.
“They are going to the courts for relief. We cannot shut our doors to the people,” Chief Justice Thakur pointed out,
The Bench said it can consider the plea only to the extent of transferring the cases to Delhi.
“This is very serious. This is will require great consideration. People have become frantic, people are affected… There may be riots,” the Bench, also comprising Justice Anil R. Dave, voiced its apprehensions to Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi.
Mr. Rohatgi responded that there is no such tense situation prevalent. “That is completely wrong. People are patiently standing in lines,” he said.
“No. There is suffering. There is difficulty and you cannot dispute that ” Chief Justice Thakur stressed.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal submitted that 47 people have died post-November 8, as an after effect of the demonetization.
“Would we be issuing notifications by the day, by the hour, if we were not concerned about the people’s problems. The length of the lines are reducing by the day,” Mr. Rohatgi claimed.
The Chief Justice Thakur asked why the government has a problem in dispensing enough cash. “Is there any deficiency in Rs. 100 notes? They have not been demonetised. Why are they not been made available at least?” he asked.
The government acknowledged that there is a shortage of Rs. 100 notes as the now defunct Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes formed 80 percent of the currency in circulation before November 8. “Rs. 100 notes are not available. Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes were over 80 per cent of the currency,” Mr. Rohatgi owned up.
Mr. Rohatgi, at the same time, denied any “cash crunch”. He submitted that there was only trouble dispensing the newly printed currency from the mints to all over the country — to post offices, ATMs, banks, etc.
The hearing started with Chief Justice Thakur asking how the government reduced the limit of exchange of currency from Rs. 4500 to Rs. 2000 again despite the Supreme Court asking the Centre to do its best to alleviate the hardship of the common man.
Mr. Rohatgi replied by saying that cash will be made available on swiping cards in petrol stations with State Bank of India cards. He said Rs. 2.5 lakh will be allowed for weddings and farmers will get Rs. 25,000.
Mr. Sibal said: “people with Mercedes can afford to swipe their cards at petrol bunks, not farmers. Eight hundred crore people in this country earn less than Rs. 10000 a month. That is not black money. A family walked 20 km from Bastar to an ICICI bank branch.”
Mr. Sibal said 23 lakh crore notes have to be printed and 14 lakh crore worth currency was frozen as from November 8. Only about nine lakh crore currency is in circulation.
Mr. Rohatgi at this point directed the government’s attack on Mr. Sibal, accusing him of playing politics in court.
“I saw your press conference,” Mr. Rohatgi told Mr. Sibal.
“Was my press conference held inside a courtroom? Why are you bringing that here?” Mr. Sibal countered.
The Bench has asked both the Centre and Mr. Sibal to produce facts and figures on November 25, depicting the ground realities and sufferings caused to the people due to demonetization.