The very major step of demonetization of high denomition currency notes that the Union government initiated on November 8 has, by and large, been accepted by the people of India as a wholesome and long-pending decision. Some people even regard it as a war on black money. It is hardly surprising that some Opposition parties have been speaking of the demonetization initiative as a major economic blunder, and Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has continued her efforts to bring together select parties against the November 8 decision. Considering that almost all major fincial dealings of political parties are conducted in cash and considering that political parties in India are obliged to keep huge sums of cash in high denomition notes, the demonetization initiative has come as a major blow to all political parties. The BJP has termed as baseless the allegation that the party had prior information regarding the demonetization move.
Using the metaphor of war on black money goes reasobly well with the kind of initiative planned and the role of the citizen in a warlike situation. One is taken back to World War II (1939 to 1945) where the people of Britain, Germany and France as well as several other European countries went through considerable inconvenience in their day-to-day existence not for just a few weeks or months but for six long years. The decision to wage and fight the war was the decision of the elected leaders. But once the people realized that the war was inevitable, they took it in their stride as a patriotic duty. If we really believe that the war on black money was imperative and desirable, we should be prepared for some inconvenience over a few weeks to support an initiative that is for our good and one that holds the promise of getting the tion out of the black money mece. Most people agree that just as black money is generated by corruption, corruption in turn is sustained to a large extent by black money. Black money is always cash. But the converse is not true. Not all cash is black money. And in an age where salaries in the corporate sector are very high, it is not at all unusual for thousands of families to have fairly large amounts of cash at home. And this is a fact that the Fince Ministry and the Reserve Bank have not lost sight of. Every individual has been permitted to convert fairly substantial amounts of cash held in Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 currency notes to notes of smaller denomitions without the likelihood of any investigations being made. Hence much of the cribbing by some politicians must be seen as arising from the difficulties they now face for having a lot of cash they cannot account for.
True, there have been some lapses that should have been avoided. The planners of the operation obviously failed to take into account the large number of situations that would call for substantial amounts of cash. Obviously, no one seems to have anticipated that there would be a large number of weddings all over the country where legitimate payments would have to be made in cash to a large number of service providers. No one seems to have given a thought to the thousands travelling air, train or night buses who would arrive at their destitions at odd hours without knowing anything about the demonetization and about the fact that much of the money they were carrying in their wallets was worthless. No thought seems to have been spared for foreign tourists who might have converted their money to Indian rupees and landed themselves in a situation that they might not be able get out of being foreign tiols. Nor would they have the time to stand in long queues. This is likely to do some damage to the image of India as a tourist destition. No one seemed to be thinking of patients in hospitals on whom large sums have to be spent in cash every day. Nor was anyone probably thinking of the aged and the infirm who could not be expected to stand in long queues for two or three hours just to draw some money from their bank accounts. In fact, much of the problem in urban areas has arisen from an acute shortage of cash in banks and in the ATMs. Proper planning for the demonetization coup should have included a sufficient stock of new high denomition currency notes with the Reserve Bank of India, so that no bank had to run short of cash. And since the lakhs of ATMs in the country had to be recalibrated for lower denomition notes and a much larger number of people, the government had to juggle with an impossible equation. The equation was made even more difficult by the lack of the thousands of technicians to recalibrate ATMs in very great hurry. Since these lapses in the urban areas have led to great hardships for people, one shudders to think of the sufferings of people in the rural areas. Assam had a special problem. Its tea gardens have to pay their labour force their weekly wages in cash. There is just no question of paying tea garden workers their weekly wages by cheque. They have always been paid in cash. And most of them do not have bank accounts to be paid in any other way. Someone ought to have thought of the problems that tea garden owners of Assam would face with high denomition notes being demonetized overnight. And yet, there is no denying that the preparations for such demonetizations have to be carried out in utmost secrecy without anyone getting to know of what was being planned. This is what makes the metaphor of a war so appropriate. In a war, planning can be done only up to a point. Having waged this war, there is no question of abandoning what has to be done in the coming days. In a good cause, people must take the hardships in their stride.