THE SUPREME Court Monday agreed to examine whether it was permissible and proper for the central government and Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to restrict the deposit of demonetised currency till December 30, 2016, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had declared that old notes could be deposited till March 31, 2017. A bench led by Chief Justice of India J S Khehar admitted three petitions for hearing, and issued notices to the government and the RBI. Reluctant to entertain the plea initially, the bench, also comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and Sanjay K Kaul, later decided to seek replies from the government and the central bank.
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It asked the counsel for the petitioners to serve copies of the petitions on the counsel for the government and the RBI to enable them to appear in court on Friday with responses. All the three petitions have questioned the “propriety and reasonableness” of ‘The Specified Bank Notes (Cessation of liabilities) Ordinance, 2016’, whereby the RBI was absolved of its liablity to accept demonetised currency notes of Rs 500 and 1000 despite a promise made by the Prime Minister on November 8, 2016, in his “address to the nation” to announce the demonetisation policy. With their petitions, they attached copies of the Prime Minister’s address and a press release issued by the RBI on November 8, last stating that those who failed to deposit the old currency notes in banks by December 30, could do so at designated counters till March 31.
These RBI counters, the statements had said, would accept the old notes upon completion of certain formalities. However, the Ordinance issued on December 30, allowed only the Non-Residents Indians (NRIs) to deposit old notes till March 31. First petitioner, Sudha Misra, submitted that she was pregnant and residing at her maternal home in Jharkhand’s Ranchi at the time of announcement of demonestisation. She claimed that after her return to Delhi, she was “shocked and surprised” that the Ordinance created a separate class of people to let them deposit the money till March 31. “The Ordinance is contrary to the earlier notification issued on November 8,” she claimed, adding which was “breach of trust” by the government.
Through her separate petition, 71-year-old Sarla Shrivastav, said she had in January this year stumbled upon Rs 1.79 lakh in a steel chest of her husband, who died in April last year after suffering from various ailments and also a memory loss. Shrivastav also wrote to the PMO questioning how an assurance by the Prime Minister could be withdrawn arbitrarily but her letter was simply forwarded to the Department of Economic Affairs “for appropriate action”.
The third petition has been filed by Victory Logitrans Pvt Ltd, which has also challenged the change in the norms. The Supreme Court is also seized of a clutch of petitions challenging the validity of demonetisation as a policy and the issue has been referred to a five-judge Constitution Bench, owing to the gravity of the issues involved. The Constitution Bench has to delve upon nine questions relating to the validity of the RBI’s notifications, ambit of the RBI’s power as well as scope of judicial review in matters of fiscal and economic policies. The batch of matters are likely to be heard in May.