SC fears riots, says people are frantic due to demonetisation

Rejects Centre’s plea to stay cases filed in HCs, lower courts

Published - November 19, 2016 12:59 am IST - NEW DELHI:

A woman being checked for the indelible ink mark at an  RBI counter in Chennai on Friday.

A woman being checked for the indelible ink mark at an RBI counter in Chennai on Friday.

Apprehending “riots,” the Supreme Court on Friday refused the government’s plea to stay cases filed against inconveniences caused by demonetisation in High Courts and lower courts across the country, saying, “How can we shut our doors to people when there is an issue of such magnitude.”

Noting that people have started becoming “frantic” for money, braving queues for hours, a Bench led by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur observed that the very fact that cases are being filed in courts all over is a signal that the problem is “serious and of magnitude.”

“They are going to the courts for relief. We cannot shut our doors to the people,” Chief Justice Thakur said, refusing the government’s plea.

The Bench, however, said the government could file transfer petitions to shift all the cases filed in other courts to Delhi.

“This is very serious. This will require great consideration. People have become frantic, people are affected... There may be riots,” the Bench, also comprising Justice Anil R. Dave, told Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi. “That is completely wrong. People are patiently standing in lines,” Mr. Rohatgi protested.

"There is suffering. There is difficulty and you cannot dispute that," Chief Justice Thakur observed.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal submitted that 47 people had died post November 8, as an after effect of the demonetisation.

"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 is reducing by the day," Mr. Rohatgi claimed.

Queries on cash crunch

Chief Justice Thakur asked why the government has a problem in dispensing enough cash. "Tell us, is there any deficiency in Rs. 100 notes? They have not been demonetised. Why are they not been made available at least?" the Chief Justice asked.

The government acknowledged that there was a shortage of Rs.100 notes as the now defunct Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes had formed 80 per cent of the currency in circulation before November 8. “Rs. 100 notes are not available as Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes was over 80 per cent of the currency,” Mr. Rohatgi submitted.

But the Attorney-General, in the same breath, said denied any “cash crunch”. He submitted that there was only trouble dispatching the newly printed currency all over the country — to post offices, ATMs, banks, etc.

Chief Justice Thakur asked why the government chose to reduce the limit of exchange of currency notes from Rs. 4500 to Rs. 2000 despite the Supreme Court asking the Centre to do its best to alleviate the hardship of the common man.

Mr. Rohatgi replied that debit cards could be swiped for cash at petrol bunks. and a withdrawal limit of Rs. 2.5 lakh has been allowed for wedding purposes. Besides, farmers would get Rs. 50000.

Mr. Sibal said, “People with Mercedes can afford to swipe their cards at petrol bunks, not farmers. And many who line up are illiterate...A family walked 20 km from Bastar to an ICICI bank branch,” he said.

Mr. Sibal said 23 lakh crore notes have to be printed and Rs. 14 lakh crore worth currency was frozen as from November 8.

Mr. Rohatgi at this point directed the government's attack on Mr. Sibal, accusing him of attempting politics in court. “I saw your press conference,” Mr. Rohatgi told Mr. Sibal.

“Was my press conference held in court? Then why are you bringing it 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 demonetisation.

The apex court had on November 15 refused to stay the government’s demonetisation notification, but asked it to spell out the steps taken to minimise public inconvenience. Out of the four PILs in the apex court on the demonetisation issue, two were filed by Delhi-based lawyers Vivek Narayan Sharma and Sangam Lal Pandey, while two others were filed by individuals, S Muthukumar and Adil Alvi.

The petitioners have alleged that the sudden decision has created chaos and harassment to the public at large and the notification of the Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance be either quashed or deferred for some time.

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