On Friday, the Supreme Court expressed concern over the long queues at banks and ATMs. The court also rejected Centre’s plea to seek a stay on the proceedings in all courts except the apex court, on all matters relating to demonetisation.
“It is a serious issue which requires consideration,” a bench comprising Chief Justice T S Thakur and Justice A R Dave said.
“Some measures are required. See the kind of problems people are facing. People have to go to the high court. If we shut them from going to the high court, how can we know the magnitude of the problem. People going to different courts indicate the magnitude of the problem,” the bench added.
Supreme Court’s observations came after Attorney General (AG) Mukul Rohatgi submitted to the court that any matter related to challenging demonetisation should be heard by the apex court only.
However, the bench said, “People are affected. People are frantic. People have the right to approach the courts,” noting that there are difficulties and “can you (the Centre) dispute”.
Massive queuing at banks, post offices and ATMs began after government’s demonetisation move on November 8 which made defunct high-denomination currency notes of ₹ 500 and ₹ 1000.
Rohatgi agreed that there have been queues but he also said that they were getting shorter and the situation was getting better. He even suggested that the CJI can go out during lunch and see the queue for himself.
The bench also questioned the relief measures undertaken by the Centre saying, “Last time you said there will be relief for people in the coming days but you have squeezed the exchange limit to Rs 2,000 only.”
“What is the difficulty? ” the bench asked.
To this Rohatgi said “There is no shortage of funds” and explained how the currency has to be circulated among people and how the ATMs have to be re-calibrated to the new notes. He also elaborated on the steps taken by the government to ease the situation.
Rohatgi in his argument also took objection to senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who was appearing on behalf of a private party, for allegedly exaggerating the situation.
“It’s a political attempt in the court. I have seen your (Sibal’s) press conference also. You are not appearing for a political party, but for an advocate. You are turning the apex court into a political platform,” Rohatgi argued.
But Sibal insisted that the government had a printing problem as they needed to print Rs 23 lakh crore which they did not have a capacity to do.
“Already they have frozen Rs 14,000 crore and it is not clear under which law they have done so,” he said, contending that it is a serious situation where people cannot withdraw their own taxed money…They are trustee, how can they not let us withdraw our legitimate money,” he said, adding that “the situation has turned from bad to worse,” Sibal argued.
Sibal further highlighted the plight of the people living in remote areas where individuals have to walk for 20 kms to reach an ATM.
As soon as Rohatgi realised the bench’s reservation in entertaining the Centre’s application, Rohatgi said, “We will file a transfer petition” and the matter was posted to be heard again on November 25.
On November 15, two days ago, the apex court had refused to stay the government’s demonetisation notification, but asked it to spell out the steps taken to minimise public inconvenience.
As of now there are four PILs filed in the apex court on the demonetisation issue. The petitioners have alleged that the sudden decision has created chaos and harassment to the public at large and the notification of the Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance be either quashed or deferred for some time.
Prime Minister Narendra, in a televised address to the nation on November 8, had announced that Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes will no longer be legal tender from November 9.
He had said the government’s move was a bid to flush out black money and corruption from the economy.
(With inputs from PTI)