Surgical Strikes, Or Is It Carpetbombing: Supreme Court
NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court, hearing a clutch of petitions aksing for the roll back of the government’s decision to demonetise Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes did not stay the order but said it will examine the legal validity of the notification on February 25.
However, the apex court directed the government to take measures to ease the pressure on the common man observing, “discontinuing of higher denomination notes appears to be carpet bombing and not surgical strike.”
The court has asked the government to file an affidavit to justify its notification and the steps it has taken since, before the next hearing. Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi informed the SC bench that Rs 3.2 lakh crores had been deposited in the banks since November 10 and Rs 11 lakh crore more was expected.
Meanwhile the chaos continues, in what economists feel will have a ripple down impact on prices of essential commodities over the next weeks. At least 25 plus deaths have been reported from all over the country in the first six days of demonetisation. Older men have collapsed with heart attacks while standing in queues for hours, persons have lost their lives as the hospitals refused to accept old currency, and at least one suicide has been reported of a woman who killed herself in Mahubabad district in Telangana because she thought her life’s savings to be worthless. A murder was also put down to demonetisation with a man allegedly killing his wife in Howrah, West Bengal as he was angry that she did not spend the time required in the queue to exchange their money.
The banks are completely streteched out, with banking activities now on standstill as all employees lend a hand to dispersing the money to angry, and agitated crowds outside.
Thousands of trucks have stopped on highways across India, running out of cash to pay for fuel at the gas stations. The trucks, carrying fuel, vegetables, essential commodities, have piled up from the North-East down with shortages expected to result in a spike in prices. Media reports quoting logistics firms and truck operators stated that 90% of 3 million trucks have stopped plying because of the refusal of petrol pumps and eateries to accept the old denominations.
Hospitals have been turning away patients, particularly in the first days, when those seeking medical help were carrying the old notes. Deaths have been reported because seriously ill patients, including a child, were turned away.
The Opposition is gearing up to take the government to task on this issue. All political parties, including BJP ally Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, have opposed the move that is expected to rock Parliament when it convenes on November 16. Some political parties will join West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in her walk to meet the President of India, some will hold demonstrations but almost all will demand a response from the government in Parliament. Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is swerving between threats to tax offenders, and emotional speeches claiming that is life is now in danger, is aware of a the adverse response to the move that has citizens across the country queuing up to claim what is theirs. As the Opposition leaders have been pointing out, not a single rich person or businessman of some worth is being seen in the queues comprising almost all low middle class and poor workers who need their small savings to be converted to legal currency to live.
Interestingly, the new notes are reported to be losing colour. When asked about it by reporters at a press briefing the economic affairs secretary Shaktikanta Das clarified: “The new currency notes leak colour when wet, because that’s the nature of the paper the notes are made from. If your note does not lose colour, it may be fake.” Interesting, more so as fake notes of Rs 2000 have been found in Tarn Taran, Punjab giving rise to speculation that the demonetisation has not taken the teeth out of the fake currency business that had flooded the markets. And that the new demonination that is still not in sufficient supply to be given to the people is already being reprinted by the fake currency operators.
(Cover Photograph: Two men with fake Rs 2000 notes caught by the Punjab police)