AN RTI response by National Bank for Agriculture & Rural Development (NABARD), which stated that an Ahmedabad entity had topped the list of cooperative banks that accepted Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes after the note-ban policy was announced, triggered a war of words Friday between the Congress and the BJP.
Addressing a press conference Friday, Congress leader Randeep Surjewala claimed that Ajay Patel, the chairman of Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank (ADCB) which mobilised Rs 745.58 crore worth of banned notes in just four days in 2016, is a “close associate” of BJP president Amit Shah who is a director and former chairman of the bank.
Surjewala demanded a probe into these deposits and alleged that the RTI reply has “exposed an attempt to convert black money into white money in the guise of demonetisation”.
Congress chief Rahul Gandhi posted on Twitter: “Congratulations Amit Shah ji, Director, Ahmedabad Dist Cooperative Bank, on your bank winning 1st prize in the conversion of old notes to new race. 750 Cr in 5 days! Millions of Indian whose lives were destroyed by Demonetisation, salute your achievement.”
Responding to the allegations, acting Union Finance Minister Piyush Goyal posted on Twitter: “Congress is once again trying to sensationalise the issue with misguided allegations against Shri @AmitShah, which clearly shows desperation to deflect public attention from its own misdemeanours. Rightly exposed by NABARD.”
The BJP’s IT cell in-charge Amit Malviya posted on Twitter: “Taking down Rahul Gandhi is boring, because he neither has facts nor credibility. 746 cr was deposited by 1.6 L account holders (mostly farmers and neo-middle class), which translates to- 46K/depositor, lower than other banks. RG’s demonetisation blues?” Goyal and Malviya linked their Twitter posts to a press statement from NABARD.
The statement said: “NABARD conducted 100% verification in Ahmedabad DCCB which revealed that the bank had complied with all the KYC Guidelines of the RBI while accepting the demonetised notes. As per the verification report of NABARD, required under the extant guidelines, the bank had also submitted the required Cash Transaction Reports (CTRs) and STRs to FlU-India wherever required. The average amount of demonetised notes deposited by the customers of the bank has been lower than that of other banks.”
Earlier, responding to an RTI plea from Manoranjan Roy, NABARD said that 370 DCCBs mobilised deposits of Rs 22,270 crore between November 10 and 14, 2016, the first five days after demonetisation before the RBI barred them from accepting demonetised notes.
The reason cited by the RBI before the Supreme Court was that these banks did not adhere to KYC norms. But the unstated reason, confirmed by official sources, was that the government and the regulator suspected that these banks were being used to launder funds, leading to searches and raids by central agencies.
Operations in the DCCBs were severely hit during this period, especially in states such as Maharashtra and Kerala with a vast network of these banks that were stuck with old notes which the central bank refused to accept.
This led to a litigation in the Supreme Court, which allowed the banks in January 2017 to exchange their demonetised currency after a rigorous scrutiny of accounts. But in June last year, the RBI said old currency notes deposited with these banks before November 8, 2016, when demonetisation was announced, would not be eligible for exchange.