Benefits of Demonetisation Now Lost in India

With the significant increase in currency circulation by the Reserve Bank of India, the Government of India collects money from the people in a variety of ways by issuing bonds etc. and several state governments also do so.

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File photo of queue in front of the Reserve Bank of India, Mumbai, due to the non-availability of large currency notes [Photo Credit: Biswanath Banik/ Telegraph India]

In November 2016, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sprang surprised the countrymen by announcing the demonetisation of high-value currency notes.  After announcing the decision,  Mr. Modi spoke to the surprised and confused people and explained as to why demonetisation was necessary.

Mr. Modi  said that considering the urgent need to wipe out black money circulating in the country, root out corruption and eliminate counterfeit notes, he had taken this measure.  While stating that demonetisation was one of the measures that he would initiate to achieve the objectives, Mr. Modi also implied that curbing currency in circulation is a pre-condition to achieve such objectives. 

The demonetisation announcement was followed by long queue in front of the banks,   causing hardships to people in several ways.

Of course, the pledged admirers of Mr. Modi appreciated his courage of conviction to take such bold decision and sworn critics of Mr. Modi opposed his move bitterly. However, the fact is that, by and large ,common people in India viewed   Mr. Modi’s move as necessary and appropriate, which became clearly evident when Mr. Modi’s party was voted back to power with clear majority in subsequent election to parliament.  The consensus view was that the demonetisation measure put huge fear in the mind of the corrupt people and black money holders and huge quantity of unaccounted money was brought to light, which justified the demonetisation measure.

Huge increase in currency circulation :

One of the claims made at the time of demonetisation by Modi government was that the currency in circulation would be significantly brought down and digitalisation would be promoted in a big way .

While the currency in circulation was significantly brought down immediately after demonetisation, the present ground reality is that the currency in circulation has now increased by over around 83% after the demonetisation period in 2016.

Soon after demonetisation, the currency in circulation fell to a low of about ₹9 lakh crore on January 6, 2017, nearly 50% of ₹17.74 lakh crore on November 4, 2016.

The currency in value terms has soared from ₹17.74 lakh crore on November 4, 2016, to ₹32.42 lakh crore on December 23, 2022.  Currency in circulation, which was ₹18.04-lakh crore at end-March 2018, jumped to ₹31.34-lakh crore at end-March 2022 and further to ₹32.42-lakh crore as on December 23, 2022.

Has the benefits been achieved now ?:

The question now is whether India has reaped the benefits of demonetisation measures subsequently.  It appears that it has not happened, which is unfortunate. 

Due to such a high currency circulation level  at present, the use of unaccounted  money  
( mainly cash)  has now soared.  Recently, record seizures amounting Rs.6.6 crore in cash were made in one single assembly constituency in Telangana.  Almost every day, news Is appearing in the media that  Enforcement Directorate and Incomes Tax authorities have been conducting raids and seizing a huge amount of cash from the black money holders. Some people think that the seizure of such black money is only the tip of the iceberg.

With such large currency circulation, the parallel economy is now in full flow in the country, accompanied by corruption in government departments and business dealings.  Real estate deals are now increasingly being done by cash transactions using black money.

The country seems to be back to square one at present, with a parallel economy happening and increasing at an alarming level.

What justification  ?:

Government of India has not so far provided any credible explanation for increasing the currency in circulation multi-fold, which is much against the objective pronounced by the Prime Minister at the time of announcing demonetisation. 

Some economists justify such huge cash in circulation by stating that it is necessary, as the national economy is growing at a very impressive rate and people and business houses need cash to meet their requirements.  Another argument that is advanced in favour of increase in currency circulation is that so long as people pay tax properly directly or indirectly, the total amount of cash in circulation is not a matter of concern.  To support this view, it is pointed out that the GST ( Goods and Services Tax) collection has been increasing steadily.  Further, it is argued that even as cash in circulation is increasing multi-fold, digital transaction has also been increasing significantly.

There appears to be some fundamental flaw in the above argument and there should be a better way of fiscal management than printing currency notes in a developing country like India, unlike USA.

Need for increasing currency circulation :

In the last few years, the Government of India has been spending huge money by way of subsidy support, extending cash benefits to the farmers and welfare measures and distributing free vaccines to the countrymen,  particularly to reduce to the suffering of the people during the COVID period. 

With the significant increase in currency circulation by the Reserve Bank of India, the Government of India collects money from the people in a variety of ways by issuing bonds etc. and several state governments also do so.

Benefits undone:

This strategy of the Government of India amounts to finding a short-term remedy for a long-term problem, which is bound to be counterproductive in the long run.

The net impact of the overall   Rs.32.12 lakh crore currency in circulation at present is that the benefit of demonetisation has been undone, resulting in a disturbing level of growth of parallel economy and corruption in the country. 

It is necessary to note that the increase in tax collection by the government is nowhere in proportion to the huge increase in cash circulation in the country.

Finally, the increase in currency circulation has resulted in a steep increase in the price of goods and services, creating a huge burden on the family budget of those living in the lower and middle-income groups, pensioners and those belonging to the unorganised class in the country.

N.S.Venkataraman

N. S. Venkataraman is a trustee with the "Nandini Voice for the Deprived," a not-for-profit organization that aims to highlight the problems of downtrodden and deprived people and support their cause and to promote probity and ethical values in private and public life and to deliberate on socio-economic issues in a dispassionate and objective manner.

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