Prime Minister Narendra Modi has defended the demonetisation initiative.
The Congress today demanded that Prime Minister Narendra Modi apologise to the country on Thursday, the second anniversary of the demonetisation announcement, for unilaterally attempting a "Tughlaqi" experiment that ended up "wrecking the economy and causing its people untold hardships".
Addressing a press conference in New Delhi, Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari also declared that party supporters will hold protests across the country on November 8 to condemn what he described as an exercise comparable to Delhi Sultan Muhammad bin Tughlaq's ill-advised monetary reforms in the 14th century. Congress president Rahul Gandhi and other senior leaders will participate in the rallies too, he added.
PM Modi had made the controversial announcement during a televised speech delivered at 8:15 pm on November 8, 2016, scrapping existing Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 notes with immediate effect. He said the objective of the exercise was to curtail black money and reduce the use of counterfeit currency to fund terrorism and other illegal activities.
Mr Tewari, however, asserted that the exercise achieved little other than heighten the people's woes and pull down a rising economy. "None of the objectives cited for taking almost Rs 16.99 lakh crore out of circulation were achieved… today, there is more cash in circulation than there was on November 8, 2016. So, under these circumstances, we demand that the Prime Minister stand up and apologise to the people of this country for wrecking the Indian economy through this Tughlaqi decree," he said.
The Modi government's demonetisation initiative removed a substantial amount of currency from circulation, leading to serpentine queues in front of the banks and ATMs. It also hit the stock market, reduced industrial output, and made the going hard for the cash-dependent agricultural sector.
Earlier this year, the Reserve Bank of India admitted that as much as 99.3% of the scrapped currency had come back — spurring the opposition to dub the demonetisation initiative as a "money-laundering" scam. However, an RTI activist today said the central bank refused to reveal the cost incurred on scrapping banned currency notes worth Rs 15,31,073 crore.
The central government has staunchly defended the move, stating that it encouraged digital transactions and helped bring people closer to the banking system.
The comparison with Muhammad bin Tughlaq pertains to the Delhi ruler's disastrous decision in 1330 AD to mint brass and copper coins with monetary values similar to that of traditional gold and silver currency. However, miscreants took advantage of the absence of any security feature to mint counterfeit coins. The economy was eventually flooded with fake currency, disrupting trade and forcing the administration to rethink its decision.
(With inputs from PTI)