Having made the biggest gamble in his political career with demonetization, Prime Minister rendra Modi believes that this one move would help strike mighty blows against corruption, black money and poverty long ailing this country. Only time will tell how his vision of a cashless (or less cash) and thereby more transparent economy plays out, but in the short term, the PM is facing considerable flak over implementation issues. To complicate matters, the rot of corruption runs deep in the apparatus tasked to carry out this ‘game changing’ move. The PM’s demonetization announcement is not even a month old, people are now queuing up in banks and ATMs to draw salaries in installments — but already large cash hoards in new currency are being seized across the country. The biggest seizure has been made in Bengaluru with Rs 5.7 crore seized in new Rs 2000 notes, along with over 10 kg gold bullion and jewelry from the residences and offices of two Kartaka state government engineers and two contractors. The raids were made after a tip-off from operators involved in converting black money into new currency. IT and ED sleuths suspect that at a time when cash is being rationed so drastically, such large volume of new currency notes cannot be obtained without the connivance of bank officials. They must have charged hefty commissions to help exchange demonetized notes of the four accused by providing new notes from the backdoor. The Kartaka opposition is now charging that this seizure is but the tip of the iceberg — that the black money conversion racket reaches right to the top with powerful ministers of the Siddaramaiah government hand in glove with corrupt bank officials and hawala operators. A few days back, ED sleuths conducted search operations at around 40 locations across the country, seizing new currency, including Rs 10 lakh cash all in new notes from the premises of a Kolkata-based doctor.
Fincial intelligence agencies have also reportedly unearthed over 1,650 rogue bank accounts ‘on hire’, in which account holders are charging monthly rents of up to Rs 15,000 to store uccounted money of others. Sleuths are looking into the role of bank staff in providing such hitherto non-operatiol accounts to organised syndicates to help park black money. The IT department has meanwhile issued notices to banks in Bengaluru, Cheni and Erode, a mager and a cashier of a public sector bank have been arrested at Bhatinda in Punjab, residences of two magers of a private bank have been raided in Delhi — all for charging stiff commissions to help launder black money. The upshot is that a worried Central government has now suspended as many as 27 officials of various public sector banks and transferred another six officers for ‘irregular transactions’, warning that ‘illegalities will not be tolerated’. But post offices too are under the scanner, with CBI raids in several post offices in Hyderabad last week netting at least three postal department officials exchanging invalid currencies worth Rs 36 lakh by charging 20 percent commission. Meanwhile, an India Today investigation has exposed several spiritual leaders and priests helping to convert illicit wealth for hefty commissions, who boasted before spy cameras of their links with obliging bank officials and cash mafias. This is particularly reprehensible, considering the government’s exemption to places of worship for receiving demonetized notes from devotees with no questions asked. Many shrines and religious trusts are now flush with crores of rupees in funds, and yet some of their magements are in cahoots with such corrupt elements. The situation has reached such a pass that in Hyderabad, the CBI has asked the general public to expose corrupt bank officials. This should apply to the whole country, where honest people from all walks of life are stoically bearing up under the cash crunch. Prime Minister rendra Modi, great communicator that he is, has frequently reached over the heads of the political establishment and the administration in his outreach to the people. His government should now institute a fool-proof mechanism for public feedback on the struggle against black money, so that the people really get to mind their minders.