THE SUPREME Court on Thursday asked the Centre how “crores in new currency” were being seized “every day”, even as banks have expressed their inability to dispense Rs 24,000 to each account holder — the weekly withdrawal limit set after demonetisation.
Replying that “the government cannot sit in every bank”, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said people should bear “70 days” of discomfort as a “revolution” was taking place in the country after 70 years.
The bench led by Chief Justice of India T S Thakur was hearing a bunch of petitions challenging the demonetisation of old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes.
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“Tell us, how are crores in new currency being seized every day when you have been citing cash crunch… you yourself have been arguing that banks are not able to give even Rs 24,000 to every person, which has been set as the limit for weekly withdrawal,” the bench, also comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, asked Rohatgi.
“The Government of India cannot sit in every bank… bank managers have done this fraud and they are being nabbed,” replied Rohatgi. He said two Axis Bank managers have been arrested so far, and the authorities have begun a crackdown. “We cannot be blamed if the bank managers have done it,” he said.
“Has your Rs 5 lakh crore (new currency notes) gone the same way? We are asking you this because people are complaining they have not been able to see this money,” the bench asked Rohatgi. The court said it seemed to be a problem of extremes. “Some have plenty (of new currency), and there are some who have nothing,” it said.
Rohatgi said a total of Rs 7.5 lakh crore, including Rs 5 lakh crore in new currency notes, was available for transaction, and the cash problem should be resolved soon. “Seventy years of change would need at least 70 days. It is a revolution that we are talking about. It will deal with terrorism, black money, counterfeit and many such evils. This has to be a gigantic exercise,” he said.
The bench also asked the AG why the exemption on use of old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes at hospitals and other places could not be extended. “Till the time you are unable to give new currency, let this continue. What could be your problem if government hospitals are allowed to accept old notes? These are your hospitals and they give proper receipts,” it said.
Citing an example, Rohatgi said petrol pumps deposited mostly Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes in banks when the exemptions were allowed. He said the government had reason to believe that the old notes were exchanged at a premium. “Besides, it cannot be a matter of judicial review as to which exemptions should continue. After all, these are issues of executive policy,” asserted the AG.
The court reserved its order on issuing interim directives in the matter. It is likely to pronounce its order in the first week of January.