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10 Dec 2016

SC’s big buck questions- Apex court hammers NDA regime over demonetisation mess

HT, 10 Dec 2016, NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday asked the Centre to consider fixing a minimum assured withdrawal limit which banks cannot refuse and permit district cooperative banks to accept old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes subject to a stringent verification process of the customers. A bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur told attorney-general Mukul Rohatgi to seek instruction from the government and get back to the court on December 14 when it would give an interim order to reduce the inconvenience caused to the people in the post demonetisation period.
“There should be some order without causing prejudice to your objective,” the bench told Rohatgi.
A constitution bench would be set up to hear the 25 petitions that challenged government’s November 8 notification that suddenly scrapped high denomination notes, the court said. On the next date it would frame 11 questions for consideration of the constitution bench.
As the court questioned banks’ inability to give cash to the public despite the Centre’s announcement that allows a weekly withdrawal of Rs 24,000 per person, Rohatgi painted a positive picture. He said the government had taken steps to reduce the inconvenience caused to the people, resulting in smaller queues outside ATMs and banks. “There are only three to four people now standing in lines. Also, 15 more days are left for the deadline to end. Things will become better after December 31,” Rohatgi told the bench. He, however, opposed the court’s proposal to issue a directive to all the banks not to deny Rs 24,000 to each person per week and conceded there was a cash crunch.
“There are teething problems. You cannot be allowed to withdraw all your money because there is no money,” Rohatgi said, adding, “There has to be equitable distribution.”
The bench, however, said the amount was fixed on government’s assurance and the banks can’t ration it as it is presently doing. The SC’s remarks followed former finance minister and senior advocate P Chidambaram’s submission that banks had framed their own rules and were denying money to people.
“Did you have any projections as to how much you will receive and how much notes were to be printed? What would be your gestation period?” the bench asked, wondering whether there was any application of “mind” or “planning” done before the sudden announcement.
The A-G said the government was offering incentives to the public to switch to digital payments. “But, togo digital was not your objective ,” the court reminded Rohatgi.

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