As reports came in of logistical problems in making cash available in the interiors of the country where there’s already rural distress, the debate over the demonetisation of higher denomination currency notes moved to Parliament Wednesday where battlelines were drawn on the very first day of the winter session.
While there was unstated consensus on the decision to weed out black money, the Opposition questioned the methodology adopted and attacked the government for being “insensitive” to the problems being faced by people in the wake of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes going out of circulation.
The government hit back, saying the step was in “national interest” and those opposing it will be asked if “they support black money and corruption”. It said the “buzz word across the country” was that this “inconvenience” is “temporary pain for long-term gain”.
Union Minister Piyush Goyal said the step to scrap the notes was taken on the basis of the decision of the Reserve Bank of India board.
Somewhat stumped by the readiness of the government to discuss the issue, the Opposition closed ranks in Rajya Sabha — Lok Sabha was adjourned for the day after obituary references — to try and corner the government. Congress leader Anand Sharma sought a probe into what he called “selective leak” of the decision before its announcement and said the entire country had been painted as criminals.
Highlighting “lack of preparedness” for implementing this measure, BSP chief Mayawati said an “economic emergency” had been imposed, that there was “restlessness among people” and the most affected were the poor, farmers, small traders and the middle class.
Targeting the Prime Minister and maintaining that his measures will not curb black money and corruption, CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury drew from the French revolution to make his point: “We have Modi Antoinette who says ‘if you don’t have paper, use plastic’.”
Leading the government counter, Goyal said the entire country had welcomed the decision. He said only some were upset because they had been hit by the move. “For the first time, the honest have been honoured and the dishonest have suffered losses.”
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As Sharma pointed out that monetary policy was the domain of the RBI, Goyal said the Prime Minister had the right to take a decision and there was never a situation for an ordinance to be brought. “RBI formulates the monetary policy and the Reserve Bank board took the decision. And on the basis of that decision, the 500 and 1,000 notes were scrapped,” he said.
Apart from weeding out black money and curbing corruption, the demonetisation step, Goyal said, would make the economy honest, ensure full payment of taxes, and rein in interest rates, inflation and tax rates.
Details of those who had stashed money abroad, he said, could not be revealed since it would impair an ongoing probe. After this move, he said, every individual will think twice before indulging in corruption and black money.
“It is in the interest of the nation… So if somebody says we are opposed to this… then it is natural for someone to ask, are they supporting black money and corruption that they are opposing such a good move.”
Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu too took on the Opposition later: “The country is watching who is saying what. The benchmark is who is opposing transformation and who is backing it. Is hoarding and circulating black money a fundamental right? Some are unfortunately opposing even the basic principles. I ask the Congress, come out of your dilemma and tell us which side you are. Are you in favour of smugglers and hoarders of black money?”
Earlier, speaking to the media at Parliament House, the Prime Minister called for a fruitful session. “I feel a very good debate will take place in this session too. All parties will have the best of contribution. Best of efforts will be made to take all parties along in completing government business. We are ready for an open debate which will lead to good and important decisions,” he said.
Modi recalled that during the monsoon session, Parliament took an important step for realisation of the dream of “one country, one tax”.
Alluding to the passage of the Constitutional amendment Bill to facilitate the Goods and Services Tax, he said: “That day too, I had thanked all parties. When all parties work together in national interest, good decisions are taken and they are taken fast. It also gives good results.”