Demonetisation: Opposition alleges information leak, seeks JPC probe

Congress leader Anand Sharma speaks during the debate on demonetisation in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.  

The winter session of Rajya Sabha opened on Wednesday with a united opposition mounting an assault on the government over demonetisation, saying it had led to “economic anarchy” in the country and alleged selective leak of the information before the announcement which should be probed by a Joint Parliamentary Committee.

The government rejected as baseless the Opposition charge that there was “leakage” of the November 8, 2016 decision and said everyone was taken by surprise which is why there are “initial” problems.

Joining ranks over the raging issue, parties such as the Congress, the JD(U), the RJD, the SP, the BSP, the Trinamool Congress, the Left parties and the AIADMK slammed the government, particularly targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for making Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes invalid and said the “ill-timed” and “ill-conceived” step had severely hit the common people, the farmers and the poor.

During a discussion on demonetisation, which was taken up after suspension of all business in response to notices given by a host of Opposition members, a scathing attack was made on the government which strongly defended the step as one taken in national interest and to end corruption and black money, which it linked to terror activities in the country.

Alleging that the information had been leaked to BJP units and “friends of BJP”, a number of Opposition parties demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe into it.

During the course of seven-hour debate which remained inconclusive, there were repeated demands by the Opposition members that the Prime Minister should be present in the House to listen to the members. The Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said Mr. Modi, who did not come to the House on Wednesday, should at least be present on Thursday and possibly intervene.

Initiating the debate, Congress leader Anand Sharma used wit and humour to attack Modi, saying he was “insensitive” to problems caused to the common man.

The “ill-timed” and “ill-conceived” move has unleashed “economic anarchy” in the country and benefited a few, he said.

“Your government is insensitive,” he said, adding Mr. Modi was riding a bullet train in Japan when the old, women and common man were queueing up at banks at 3 a.m. to get currency to buy their daily needs.

Questioning the government’s contention that the step was taken to end the menace of black money, the former Union Minister said a Rs. 2000 note has been brought which is similar to the paper on which churan is sold and “sheds colour”.

Mr. Sharma alleged that the information on demonetisation was selectively leaked. “Your BJP units have deposited crores of rupees (just before the November 8 decision),” he said.

He quoted some media reports to support his allegation, saying State Bank of India — the country’s largest lender — knew of the decision way back in March and a Gujarati newspaper had in April 2016 published a report of move to withdraw Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes.

He asked the Prime Minister to state where he got Rs.23,000-24,000 crore, estimated by the International Money Watch Group, for his Lok Sabha elections. He also asked if cheque or credit card payments were made to organise his rally in Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh a few days ago.

You never kept secrecy: Anand Sharma

He demanded a probe into “how many people bought more than Rs 1 crore of foreign currency and bullion” since April. “This is a serious issue... you never kept secrecy (about the decision),” Mr. Sharma said.

Mr. Sharma said Mr. Modi had in his Goa speech had stated that those standing in line at banks were those involved in 2G spectrum and coal scam as well as holding black money.

“I condemn the Prime Minister for calling the poor standing in queue for his Rs 4,000-4,500, black money holders and scamsters,” he said.

Referring to Mr. Modi’s statement in Goa last week that certain forces were out to eliminate him, the Congress leader asked him to name the conspirators wanting to eliminate the Prime Minister of India. The Congress will not tolerate anyone planning to harm the Prime Minister of the country, he said.

Taking a dig at Mr. Modi, he said someone who “changes clothes five times a day”, has become Prime Minister and travels around the globe was “calling himself a sanyasi and tapasvi”.

Mr. Sharma demanded that the names of persons holding accounts in Swiss banks and those revealed in the Leichtenstein and HSBC lists should be made public. The names of bank loan defaulters above Rs. 5000 crore should also be made public.

While the decision had put the common man to immense hardship by way of having to stand in long queues to lay hands on valid currency to meet daily needs, the information about demonetisation was selectively leaked to the “friends of BJP,” Mr. Sharma alleged.

The move had branded 86 per cent of the currency in circulation black money and “everyone a criminal,” he said adding when Mr. Modi announced the plan it was expected that adequate arrangements would be made for dispensing new notes.

So banks and ATMs were shut on November 9, 2016, but the expectation of normalcy from next day were dashed with queues only getting longer by the day.

The government policy was to “benefit those who are your friends and hurt those who question you,” he said adding an atmosphere has been created in the country where questions cannot be asked and those doing so branded anti-nationals.

“The magnanimous Prime Minister allowed Rs. 4,000 of old currency to be changed... what right does the Constitution give the government to place restrictions on withdrawal of ones hard-earned money,” he asked, adding one has to “beg to be allowed to withdraw his own money”.

He said former RBI Governor I.G. Patel had written about the government’s decision to demonetise currency in 1978 and it would be absurd to think that all ill-gotten money is kept in cash and not invested in real estate, bullion, equities or foreign exchange.

Mr. Modi, Mr. Sharma said, had reasoned that withdrawal of the higher denomination currency to fight against black money, terrorist funding and counterfeit currency. the Congress is unequivocally opposed to black money and opposes any force that print counterfeit currency.

Mr. Sharma said the government in one stroke took away 86.4 per cent of the over Rs. 16 lakh crore currency in circulation. .

“Did the government think that 86 per cent of the currency in circulation was counterfeit or black money,” he asked.

Stating that cash to GDP ratio of Indian economy was 12-14 per cent, he said farmers, daily wagers and workers do not carry credit cards, cheque books or card swipe machines in their “ dhotis or tahmeds”.

Moving towards cashless economy was fine but even the most developed economies of U.S. or Europe have not achieved that objective yet. If they had, the U.S. central bank would have stopped printing dollars, European Central Bank won’t be printing Euros and the U.K. central bank would have stopped printing pound sterling, he said.

Stating that the government had in one stroke declared everyone a criminal, he said the government and the Finance Minister have stated that terrorists would have benefited if advance information on the decision was given. “Which terrorist goes to RBI with sack full of counterfeit currency to change.”

After withdrawing Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes, restrictions were placed even on foreign tourists who could not get their currency changed.

The Congress leader said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had informed Parliament in August 2016 that fake currency was 0.02 per cent of the total currency in circulation. “If 0.02 per cent by government admission is counterfeit currency, how can that be made the base to remove 86 per cent of currency in circulation,” he said.

‘An undeclared emergency’

An undeclared emergency has put common people in grave inconvenience, he said while crime money, ill-gotten wealth and that accrued through corruption or tax evasion is black money, Prime Minister should answer if he considered money in the market, or in households, or with farmers, workers and employees was also black money.

“This question arises because a message has gone that Indian economy was run on black money... you decide but don’t brand the whole country,” he said, adding whether the cash the farmers gets for his crop or the one he uses to buy seeds or fertilizer was black money. He said the move had rendered millions of agriculture workers and labourers unemployed.

Across the country, ATM machines are not working even after more than a week of the demonetisation decision and queues at banks are only increasing, Mr. Sharma said, adding the BJP government has not lived up to its poll promise of creating 5 crore jobs as employment is on the rise.

‘PM should be present’

BSP leader Mayawati said the House should request the Prime Minister to be present and answer the members’ concerns.

It is “a very serious issue”, she said, adding she has been observing Mr. Jaitley appears “sad”.

Her demand was supported by Mr. Azad, who said the Prime Minister must be present in the House to hear out the concerns of various parties.

Earlier, Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien said he had received as many as 13 notices under rule 267 for suspension of business to take up discussion on inconvinience and hardships caused by demonetisation of currency.

He said there was a general consensus for discussion and the government too was agreeable, so the list of business as notified stands completely suspended.

Mr. Azad demanded that Mr. Modi should at least “hear out the feelings of six-seven main parties, otherwise there is a mismatch. The feelings of Opposition members should be heard by PM. I demand that at least he hears them out and sit in the House at least today. We can wait for him to come.”

This was objected to by D.P. Tripathi (NCP), who said that as the Leader of the Opposition he should not distinguish between the big and small parties.

Ram Gopal Yadav joined Mr. Sharma to allege that information on demonetisation was “leaked” and termed it as a scam while demanding a thorough probe into it.

“A BJP leader in Punjab had tweeted on November 5 about the new Rs. 2000 note. How did this happen? This is an issue of concern. There is a scam in this. This should definitely be probed,” he said, alleging further that 10 per cent of the people have 90 per cent of wealth of the country and the remaining 90 per cent do not have anything.

The common people, especially the poor and the housewives were put to great hardship through this move and if elections are held today they will teach this government a lesson, he said, adding that majority of women who saved money through household savings were upset with the move.

“Elections are not fought with money power. You cannot win elections through money power. No one can win elections like that. Elections are won only by winning the hearts of people,” he said.

Demonetisation of high denomination currency has created big problems to common people and and law and order situation is being created with police being deployed outside banks to control the queue.

“Do not hold elections now. If you meet and ask for votes from housewives in villages, they will beat you up with belan and you will have to embalm your back with turmeric,” he said, adding that you might lose elections if you hold early polls.

Mr. Yadav said the entire House was against corrupt and drug money, but lamented that an impression is being created that those opposing this are against curbing black money which is erroneous.

Mr. Yadav also sought a probe into the “suspicion” of leak of the demonetisation decision and said a JPC can be constituted. He said the move by the government has led to lot of hardships in the villages and the villagers have stopped buying normal things like toothpaste and hair oil.

“If this continues, no one would buy Baba Ramdev products also and his factories will shut down,” he said, suggesting that the government should restart the scheme for people to declare their black money.

He said that the government has fixed the Basic Selling Price was Rs. 1,500 per quintal but because of the demonetisation, the price has come down to just Rs. 1,000 and demanded that farmers should be allowed to use the old notes to buy seeds and fertilisers.

Taking note of Prime Minister’s remarks that he might be killed because of his move, Mr. Yadav said there should be probe to find out who these people are and precaution should be taken. He said it should also be probed if the statement was made only for political motive.

He also mentioned that off late, many messages are being spread on social media targeting the PM in “filthiest of words” and the cyber cell should find out where it is originating from.

AIADMK leader A. Navaneethakrishnan said the RBI and the government have failed the rural people with this move which has threatened the saving habit of people.

Move akin to jumping out of a moving train: Sharad Yadav

JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, who also sought a JPC probe into the suspected leak, said the sudden move was akin to “jumping out of a moving train”.

He said unlike the rich, who the PM said were standing in queue, it was the poor, handicapped and old people who were doing so to get their hands on their hard earned money.

He alleged that while loans worth Rs. 7,000 crore was written off on Wednesday by banks including Rs. 1,200 crore of Vijay Mallya, the Prime Minister had made the honest of the country to stand in queues.

Mr. Yadav also took a dig at Mr. Jaitley saying he was sure that the Finance Minister was not part of the decision making on demonetisation, because had he been, Mr. Jaitley would have tipped him off. This remark left most members including Mr. Jaitley laughing.

‘Modi Antoinette says if you don’t have paper, use plastic’

CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury said that of the 130 crore population in the country, only 2.6 crore have credit cards.

He took a dig at Mr. Modi and narrated the infamous quote of Queen Marie Antoinette during the French revolution who had said that people can eat cakes when they don’t have bread. “We have Modi Antoinette who says ‘If you don’t have paper, use plastic’”.

Launching a frontal attack on the Prime Minister, Mr. Yechury compared him with a Roman ruler. He said a Senator had remarked about this ruler that: “I think he knows what Rome is. Rome is the mob. Conjure magic for them and they’ll be distracted. Take away their freedom and still they’ll roar. The beating heart of Rome is not the marble of the Senate, it’s the sand of the Coliseum. He’ll bring them death — and they will love him for it.”

Alleging that a BJP unit in Kolkata deposited Rs. 1 crore in Indian’s Bank Account on November 8, 2016 he said “prove me if I am wrong.” He added that Prime Minister was advertising for Paytm while talking about cashless economy. “It is no longer Jai Hind. PM is appearing for advertisements Jio Hind.”

He questioned how the cashless transactions could take place when 86 per cent of the transactions in the country took place via cash.

The CPI(M) leader said 1/5th of the economy is black economy and people who kept black money invested it in real estate, gold etc. That is why the imports surged and stated that it was this PM only who had stated that 95 per cent of the black money is stashed offshore and is in safe havens. “PM is cleaning a pond to kill crocodiles but big crocodiles have survived and only small fish are dying.”

He alleged that SBI has waived off Rs. 7,000 crore of NPAs, to which Mr. Jaitely said that written off does not means loan waiver. Mr. Yechury while mentioning Mr. Mallya said in effect the money given to the defaulter was not going to be realised.

Mr. Yechury said by demonetising Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes, the problem of black money was not going to be solved and this way the government was killing the poor.

He also demanded that corporate funding of all political parties should stop and there should be a system of state funding for elections to which Mr. Kurien said, “Why don’t you move a private member’s bill in this regard?”

On Mr. Yechury’s charge that the government had brought it FCRA for foreign funding, Mr. Jaitley said there is only a small amendment to benefit Indian companies giving funds in Indian accounts.

Mr. Yechury also questioned how cooperative banks were not entrusted with powers to change currency notes whereas bulks of the Indians were dealing with rural cooperative banks.

Terming the demonetisation move as Tughlak shahi, he said the length of queues before banks and ATMs was ever increasing and asked why the government was agonising the people.

He sought an investigation into the move, saying “let there be a joint parliamentary committee” for a proper probe. .

“We need to know the motive behind the move” as before every parliamentary session there is some gimmick which diverts attention from other major issues.

Govt. fields Piyush Goyal

Power Minister Piyush Goyal, who spoke on behalf of the ruling side, rejected as baseless the opposition charge that there was “leakage” of the decision and said everyone was taken by surprise which is why there are “initial” problems.

“There is no politics in it. It is a step taken in national interest,” he said, adding it will help the country in the long run.

“If anyone has the strength to take on black money and corruption, it is the BJP government and Narendra Modi,” the minister said.

He claimed that common people are out in support of the government’s move which is aimed against graft and terror and that the step will lead to curbing inflation and tax rate may come down.

Mr. Goyal claimed that the country has welcomed this initiative of the Modi government and it is natural that some people who have black money and are indulging in corruption and black money are worried about it.

“There is no curb on honestly-earned money. So nobody should have a problem,” he added.

Desh me imandaar ka samman hua hai aur beimaan ka nuksaan hua hai (The honest have been honoured and the dishonest have faced losses),” he said.

“I am confident that public is understanding the initial problems because the decision was kept a secret. No honest taxpayer will lose a single rupee. The loss will be of those who have amassed wealth through corruption and black money and the public should also support the government in the move,” he said.

Mr. Goyal said some pain and difficulty in the implementation of such a decision is inevitable but despite that the people have strongly supported the move.

He urged all the parties to support the move so that the House gives a message to the country that all are against corruption and black money.

To Mr. Sharma’s charge that those questioning the government are labelled as anti-national, he said, “Understandably if someone opposes it (demonetisation), questions will be raised on whether they are against ending the menace of corruption and black money in the country.”

Taking a dig at the opposition, he said, “We thought all political parties will support us in Parliament. But for some reasons they have opposed the move. It seems they are worried due to the large public favouring it and supporting the government despite the problems being faced by them.”

Mr. Goyal also said the BJP has already put out its poll expenses on the website and after this step all will think before indulging in corruption and black marketing.

Responding to issues raised by the Opposition, he said some people have been saying that seven or 10 days’ time should have been given. “Secrecy is most important for such a step,” he added.

Listing the benefits of the move, Mr. Goyal said interest rates will come down, inflation would be curbed and even the tax rate will come down.

“If 5 people don’t pay tax, the brunt is borne by the rest of 95 percent people. And if taxes are paid, there will be more money with the Centre to carry out welfare works for farmers, women, SC and ST sections,” he added.

With regard to allegations that the move has been timed to benefit the BJP in the U.P. elections, he said such a statement itself implies that people support this step.

To demands that the government should declare the names of people who have Swiss Bank accounts, Mr. Goyal said such a step will make it difficult for government to obtain more information about such accounts.

But some people want the government to make the error of declaring these names and then it will have difficulty in getting this information, he claimed.

Move will hit BJP in U.P., says Mayawati

Launching a scathing attack on the government, Ms. Mayawati compared demonetisation with an “economic emergency” thrust on the nation.

The move, she said, would rebound against the BJP in the 2019 general elections and the party would face defeat in the assembly elections in five states including Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Assam.

“Masses are in pain. The Prime Minister must be sleeping after taking pills. The move is without preparedness and people will punish BJP in 2019 during general elections.

“People of five States going for elections including Uttar Pradesh and Punjab will punish BJP,” she said, adding that the poor and the middle classes were the worst sufferers.

“It is an immature decision taken in haste and the whole country feels that is an ‘economic emergency’,” she said adding that it was like a “Bharatbandi situation.”

“Many died not from shock but from problems. We are not opposed to flushing out black money from the system but the decision to ban notes has been taken in haste without proper preparation,” she said, adding that private hospitals were closing their doors to patients while the farmers have no money to buy seeds.

She said ATMs did not function during the initial two days when the Prime Minister made big claims in Japan and alleged that the BJP had resorted to corruption and people were brought to Mr. Modi’s recent rally in Ghazipur by paying money.

“Ten months time for preparing the move was devoted to settling notes with some BJP leaders and industrialists,” the BSP chief said and sought to know why Prime Minister has sought 50 days time when he took 10 months for his secret preparations for the move.

At the same time, she said if the PM really wanted to curb black money, he should take action against his party leader from Karnataka who was also part of a mining mafia.

She also questioned the timing of the move saying all of a sudden why this move was implemented when elections were due in five States.

Pramod Tiwari likens Modi to Bhasmasur, Mussolini, Hitler, Qadhafi

Pramod Tiwari (Congress) compared the Prime Minister to the mythological demon Bhasmasur, who had the power to burn and turn into ashes anyone whose head he touched with his hand.

“This move by government will impact rabi crops, wheat and potatoes, and have left farmers in distress,” he added.

Mr. Tiwari said Mr. Modi had compared the currency notes of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 to scrap, which is wrong as the promissory note mentions that the government ‘promises’ to pay the owner that much amount.

To this, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said Mr. Modi had only said that these denomination notes will be scrap for the corrupt people.

Mr. Tiwari compared Modi to Muammar Qadhafi, Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, which drew sharp criticism from the BJP benches with Mr. Naqvi and Ravi Shankar Prasad asking the Chair to expunge the remarks. But Mr. Tiwari stood his ground.

Mr. Tiwari claimed that the government has taken this step to help its industrialist friends.

He demanded that a JPC should be formed to probe the issue.

Temporary pain for long-term gain: Venkaiah

Information and Broadcasting Minister Venkaiah Naidu said the exercise to take out Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes is . “temporary pain for long-term gain“.

“Prime Minister wants a behavioural change in the country... This is a war on corruption and black money and you (Opposition) have to decide which side you are on,” he added.

Listing the efforts made by the NDA government to weed out corruption and black money, the Union Urban Development Minister said that in its first cabinet meeting the government has cleared the proposal to set up a special investigative team on black money.

“We fought the elections in 2014 on corruption and scams. People expected us to take a clear cut stand,” he said.

Attacking the Opposition, the Minister said he expected an enlightened debate in the House.

Stating that government is following all the developments in the issue, he informed that the Prime Minister is holding review meeting everyday and the Finance Minister is closely monitoring the situation.

Mr. Naidu said that according to information on the internet, the parallel economy in India is 22.2 per cent of country’s total economy, while it is 8 per cent for the U.S.

After Mr. Naidu’s speech, Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien said that the discussion is not over and will continue on Thursday from 2 p.m.

To this, some members said the debate is very important and it should start from 11 a.m. by suspending Zero Hour and the Question Hour.

Mr. Azad said the discussion is under Rule 267, which means all business has to suspended.

Mr. Kurien replied that the rule was applicable for Wednesday and if it has to be put for Thursday’s discussion, then a motion has to be moved tomorrow at the appropriate time.

Mr. Azad also demanded that the Prime Minister should also be present in the House during the discussion.

Mr. Kurien adjourned the House for the day saying discussion will be done at 2 p.m. unless members move a motion.

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