Opposition slams govt, says RBI data prove note ban was sham

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After the release of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Annual Report on Wednesday, several Opposition parties said the report was evidence of what they had said when Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced demonetisation on November 8  — that “note ban” was a sham, a political move with the objective of winning the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls, a move that led to deaths of 104 people and destroyed millions of livelihoods.

The Congress demanded a public apology from the PM. “Isn’t the RBI’s revelation this evening on demonetisation pointing to a big scam?” asked the Trinamool Congress. Party chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said demonetisation was “totally a flop show”. Communist Party of India (Marxist) Chief Sitaram Yechury said lives were lost and the economy got a shock. “India can never forgive the Modi government” for the “anti-national act” of “note ban”.

Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram tweeted: “Shame on RBI which ‘recommended’ demonetisation.” The former finance minister said Rs 16,000 crore, a mere one per cent of the demonetised notes of Rs 15,44,000 crore, did not come back to the RBI. 

“The RBI ‘gained’ Rs 16,000 crore, but ‘lost’ Rs 21,000 crore in printing new notes,” he said. Chidambaram said 99 per cent notes have been legally exchanged. “Was demonetisation a scheme designed to convert black money into white?” he asked.

The Congress, Trinamool Congress and Left parties had been at the forefront of criticising the “note ban” move in November. However, at the time, their protests had failed to catch the public imagination.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who was then in the Opposition and is now a Bharatiya Janata Party ally, was the only major Opposition leader last year to have supported the move. On Wednesday, Kumar didn’t react to the RBI annual report. Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, who along with Banerjee had even led a protest in Delhi against the “note ban”, also didn’t react.

Congress Spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the RBI annual report has exposed the PM’s obfuscation. He said the PM in his Independence Day speech had claimed “note ban” unearthed Rs 3 lakh crore of black money. The RBI data prove only Rs 16,000 crore of the Rs 15.44 lakh crore didn’t come back, he added. Surjewala said much of the Rs 16,000 crore is stuck with NRIs and as court case property. “It was a huge disaster. Corrupt made windfall gains, people died. It dented institutional sanctity of the RBI and reduced GDP growth by 2 per cent,” Surjewala said.

Yechury said the PM’s boasts of demonetisation curbing black money, terrorism and counterfeit currency “have all fallen flat”. Banerjee said “note bandi” caused a GDP loss of Rs 3 lakh crore in the fourth quarter of 2016-17. “Was the system deliberately set up by government of India to facilitate dealers of black money to convert black money into white in lakhs of crores? What was the hidden agenda? The people of India demand an answer and a thorough investigation on this,” the Bengal CM said. Banerjee said that since the demonetisation issue has been referred to the Constitution bench of the Supreme Court, it should provide justice to the people of this country.

Sarcasm also poured in. If Chidambaram said economists who “recommended” demonetisation be given the Nobel prize, his Congress colleague Kapil Sibal said demonetised black money was successfully laundered and someone in the government should be given Bharat Ratna for this conversion.

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