Economy

Supreme Court Berates Centre For Premature Closure of Demonetisation Window

“You can’t arbitrarily exercise the power by closing the window,” the chief justice said.

The Supreme Court said you can't keep people in the lurch. Credit: Reuters/Files

The Supreme Court said you can’t keep people in the lurch. Credit: Reuters/Files

New Delhi: The Supreme Court, on Tuesday, slammed the Centre for its decision to shorten the time-frame that Indian residents had, to deposit their old Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes.

A bench headed by Chief Justice J.S. Khehar said that the government should file an affidavit by April 11 and lay out the reasons why the extended window of March 31, 2017, for depositing demonetised notes was only given to NRIs and Indian citizens who had travelled abroad during the period November 8, 2016, and December 31, 2016.

“You can’t arbitrarily exercise the power by closing the window. You can reject their case if you find misuse but can’t deny their rights. You can’t keep people in lurch,” the CJI said, according to a LiveLaw report.

Demonetised notes window

On November 8, when prime minister Narendra Modi announced the government’s decision to demonetise high-value bank-notes, he added that those people who were not able to deposit their notes before December 30 could still do so by going to “specified offices of the Reserve Bank of India up to 31 March 2017

However, when the actual ordinance on demonetisation was issued, it specifically added that the only people who could deposit the demonetised currency (after December 30, 2016 and until March 31, 2017) were non-resident Indians and those persons who had been out of the country during the time.

This flip-flop, reportedly caused by worries that criminally-minded people could abuse the March 31 window, prompted a number of public interest litigations (PILs) by a number of pensioners and senior citizens who were unable to deposit their old notes before December 30, 2016.

SC censure

The Justice Khehar-headed bench also asked Centre why it chose not to create a separate category for those who couldn’t deposit demonetised notes by December 30, 2016, like the way it did for NRIs and people who were abroad.

Attorney general Mukul Rohatgi’s response to this? “If the PM has made the announcement in television that deposit can be done till March-end next year (2017) but subsequent law says one can’t do so, the law will prevail but not PM’s statement,” he was reported to have said.

The Supreme Court noted that the demonetisation ordinance which banned Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes had “overtaken the PM’s speech without any notice to the people. You can’t prejudge people’s inability to deposit without giving them an opportunity.”

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