Fracas mars Supreme Court hearing on demonetisation

The hearing began with senior advocate Kapil Sibal claiming that “people were starving on the roads.”

November 25, 2016 01:27 pm | Updated November 26, 2016 04:22 am IST - NEW DELHI

At the receiving end: People waiting for their turn standing in a queue at State Bank of India at NGO’s Colony in Warangal. Photo: M. Murali

At the receiving end: People waiting for their turn standing in a queue at State Bank of India at NGO’s Colony in Warangal. Photo: M. Murali

A Supreme Court Bench led by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur said on Friday that the judiciary will “certainly” hear the ground realities and weigh the constitutionality of the November 8 RBI notification scrapping the high-denomination currency notes.

The court’s assurance came as random accusations of “maximum cash has gone into BJP hands” and “people are starving on the roads” overawed decorum at the hearing, with the Bench urging lawyers to maintain the dignity of the court.

In a much-anticipated hearing on the demonetisation issue, the apex court said it would comprehensively hear arguments on various questions raised in the issue on December 2. These include the hardships caused by demonetisation, the transferring of petitions filed in the various High Courts to Delhi, whether these petitions should be heard by the Delhi High Court or the Supreme Court itself, the constitutional validity of the RBI notification of November 8, and finally, whether the issue should be referred to a Constitution Bench.

In this, the Bench accepted the suggestion of the government that it was better to hear the demonetisation issue in its totality on December 2 rather than in a piecemeal fashion.

Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi submitted that the government's petition to transfer all demonetisation-related cases from other High Courts to the National Capital was already scheduled for hearing on December 2. In that case, the four separate petitions — listed today for hearing on Friday — should also be heard on the same day, Mr Rohatgi said, as this would ensure that the court takes an informed decision after considering all aspects of the issue.


Chaotic scenes

The morning’s hearing began with senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for a petitioner, claiming that “people were starving on the roads.”

“Nobody is starving on the roads,” Mr. Rohatgi said, dismissing the claim peremptorily.

“The markets are closed,” Mr. Sibal shot another barb at the demonetisation exercise to weed out black money.

At this point, advocate Manohar Lal Sharma, who claims that the new Rs. 2000 bank notes bleed easily and can be faked, wrested the floor from Mr. Sibal, claiming “all the banks are closed”.

“Maximum cash has gone into BJP hands,” Mr. Sharma declared as shouts of protest erupted inside the court. Then lawyers vied with each other, raising their hands for the court's attention as pandemonium seemed imminent.

Chief Justice Thakur, on the Bench along with Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, had maintained silence all through. But as the shouting continued, he Chief Justice reined in the confusion by issuing a stern warning that the court would adjourn the hearing by another six weeks unless order was restored immediately.

“Everyone is shouting with their hands over the other's shoulder. This is a courtroom and there is some decorum to be observed here. We will adjourn the case for hearing after the vacation,” Chief Justice Thakur addressed the crowded courtroom.

“There are some really serious issues here, My Lords,” Mr. Sibal interceded.

“If there is a difficulty, you tell us what the problems are,” Chief Justice Thakur addressed the senior lawyer.

“There is a lot of inconvenience. They don't have the capacity to print the new currency... what are they going to do?” Mr. Sibal said.

“If you want us to look into it... We will certainly do... But we will hear all. We cannot hear this issue piecemeal,” Chief Justice Thakur said, refusing Mr. Sibal's plea to advance the hearing to next Tuesday.

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