Supreme Court on demonetisation; People are affected, there may be riots

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday warned that there “may be riots” and refused the government's plea to stay cases filed against demonetisation in High Courts and lower courts across the country, saying 'how can we shut our doors to people when there is a problem of such magnitude."

The court, which came down hard on the Modi government, also refused its request to put on hold petitions pending in various high courts challenging the decision to scrap Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 banknotes that has led to a scramble for cash across the country.

“We asked you to give some relief but you have reduced the exchange limit,” the court said, referring to the previous hearing when it asked the government to ensure that people were not incontinenced. “Is there a printing problem?” Chief Justice of India TS Thakur asked attorney general Mukul Rohatgi.

The Centre was facing problem in moving cash to banks, ATMs and post offices, the government’s top law officer said. He also said it was not possible for the government of give Rs 100 notes to everyone. The government’s surprise decision to scrap high-value currency has led to cash chaos in the country, with snaking queues outside banks and ATMs even after 10 days of the decision. The high-value notes accounted for 86% of the currency in circulation.

Multiply petitions reflected the scale of the problem, the court said, adding it might move pleas pending in various high courts to the one in Delhi. Adjourning the matter for November 25, it asked the attorney general to move transfer petitions, which the court would consider.

The Centre on Thursday reduced to 2,000 the limit for one-time exchange of old notes in a fresh list of measures to ease the cash crunch. The government, which has limited cash withdrawals, has struggled to keep up with the demand for cash. Several people have complained that banks were giving them Rs 2,000 notes that were of little use in face of the currency shortage.

Rohatgi also clashed with Kapil Sibal who is representing one of the petitioners to have challenged the demonetisation move. He accused Sibal, a senior Congress leader, of turning the court into a political platform. As Rohtagi listed steps taken by the government, Sibal said if the AG was to be believed then “there is swarg (heaven) outside”. “I can’t be denied my legitimate money of which the government is a trustee,” Sibal said.

Opposition parties, including the Congress, have accused the Centre of imposing economic emergency. The two sides have clashed in Parliament as well, with the opposition demanding that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who announced demonetisation decision on November 8, be present in the House to answer their queries.