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Criticism of demonetisation (Relevant for GS Mains Paper III)

1. More than 90 per cent of India’s workforce still earn their wages in cash. These consist of hundreds of millions of agriculture workers, construction workers and so on. While the number of bank branches in rural areas have nearly doubled since 2001, there are still more than 600 million Indians who live in a town or village with no bank. Cash is the bedrock of the lives of these people. Their daily subsistence depends on their cash being accepted as a medium of valid currency. They save their money in cash which, as it grows, is stored in denominations of Rs.500 and Rs.1,000 notes. 

Therefore, the vast majority of Indians earn in cash, transact in cash and save in cash, all legitimately. It is the fundamental duty of a democratically elected government in any sovereign nation to protect the rights and livelihood of its citizens. The recent decision by the Prime Minister is a travesty of this fundamental duty.

2. Black money in India is a genuine concern. This is wealth that has been accumulated over years by those with unaccounted sources of income. Unlike the poor, holders of black money have access to various forms of wealth such as land, gold, foreign exchange, etc. 

Evidence from these past attempts has shown that a large majority of this unaccounted wealth is not stored in the form of cash. All black money is not in cash, only a tiny fraction is. 

3. The government has actually made it easier to generate such unaccounted wealth in the future by the introduction of a Rs.2,000 note. 

4. It is no surprise that the logistical challenge of replacing billions of old currency notes with new ones is a monumental one. It is a huge challenge in most nations, and in a country as vast and diverse as India it was bound to be doubly so. This is also one reason why most nations that have undertaken such currency swap operations have done so over a certain time period and not as a sudden overnight operation. 

5. It is heartbreaking to see and hear of millions of poor Indians standing in long lines to withdraw some money for basic sustenance.

6. The macroeconomic impact of this decision of the government is likely to be hazardous. At a time when India’s trade numbers are at multi-year lows, industrial production is shrinking and job creation is anaemic, this policy can act as a negative shock to the economy. 

This can have ripple effects on GDP growth and job creation. It is my humble opinion that we as a nation should brace ourselves for a tough period over the coming months, needlessly so.



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