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16 Dec 2016

CM conveys anguish, Urjit listens - Mamata flags people's woes and bias fear

A group of protesters, said to be Congress workers, wave placards as Urjit Patel (left) enters Calcutta airport on Thursday evening. One of the placards asked why people are dying while trying to withdraw their own money
TT, Calcutta, Dec. 15: Chief minister Mamata Banerjee today conveyed to Reserve Bank governor Urjit Patel her anguish at the problems people are facing because of demonetisation and later cautioned against political "use or misuse" of the RBI.
Patel had an hour-long meeting with Mamata this afternoon at Nabanna, the Bengal secretariat, to take stock of region-specific issues.
Government sources said the meeting was mostly "one-sided", with the chief minister holding forth on the demonetisation drive and Patel listening.
In a letter handed to the RBI chief, Mamata flagged concerns about discrimination between states on currency allocation and sought details.
After the meeting, the chief minister told journalists at Nabanna: "This (the meeting) was an opportunity I received. I spoke about the problems faced by the common people. I had expressed my views in Delhi, Lucknow, Kanpur (and) in other places too, but nobody is responding. He (Patel) is directly involved in demonetisation."
"From Maharashtra to Gujarat, UP to Bihar, Chennai to Calcutta, I told him what the common man thinks. That opportunity I took today. I am satisfied that I have been able to express my views and explain the situation," she added.
Mamata said the Reserve Bank should not be used for political gain. "We respect the RBI as an institution. It should not be politically used or misused," she said.
According to the chief minister, Patel gave her a patient hearing. Asked what the RBI governor told her, Mamata said: "But what does he have to say? I have spoken on behalf of the public and furnished evidence."
In the letter Mamata handed to Patel, the chief minister said: "As the governor of the Reserve Bank of India, an autonomous institution with a great history, which issues currencies to the nation, we expect you to stand up against this demonetisation onslaught against the common people of the nation at this moment of crisis, rather than falling silent and remaining opaque."
She continued: "We would also like to know from you the nature of allocation of new currency to each of the states in a spirit of transparency and accountability, since there are serious concerns of political discrimination among states."
In a memorandum attached to the letter, the Bengal government listed five major areas of concern - a severe crisis of notes of smaller denominations, lack of cash for farming, joblessness in the unorganised and informal sector, discrimination in the payment of wages to tea workers and inadequate banking network in Bengal.
The memorandum said the new Rs 500 notes were sent to Bengal three weeks after the demonetisation announcement and the supply was still woefully inadequate. It alleged that the state government had been kept in the dark about the availability of currency notes of various denominations in different parts of the state.
Bengal should be allowed to follow the Assam model of wage payments to tea garden workers, the memorandum said. In Assam, the wages are now being disbursed through district magistrates, which ensures the amount reaches the offices of the tea estates. In Bengal, the estates have to each withdraw their own cash.
Patel did not respond to queries from journalists after the meeting. RBI sources said he had taken note of what the chief minister said.
The RBI governor faced anti-demonetisation protests by purported Congress activists at Calcutta airport while he was leaving.
Earlier today, Patel had chaired the RBI's central board meeting at the bank's Calcutta office. Those present included RBI deputy governors R. Gandhi, S.S. Mundra and N.S. Vishwanathan and directors of the central board.
An RBI statement this evening said the board had reviewed the current economic situation, global and domestic challenges and other areas of operation of the apex bank.
While the RBI board meeting was on, several Trinamul Congress MLAs protested outside the office.

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