The winter session of Rajya Sabha opened today with a united opposition mounting an assault on the government over demonetisation, saying it had led to “economic anarchy” in the country and alleged selective leak of the information before the announcement which should be probed by a Joint Parliamentary Committee.
The government rejected as baseless the opposition charge that there was “leakage” of the November 8 decision and said everyone was taken by surprise, which is why there are “initial” problems.
Joining ranks over the raging issue, parties like Congress, JD(U), RJD, SP, BSP, Trinamool Congress, Left and AIADMK slammed the government, particularly targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for making Rs 500 and Rs 1000 denomination notes invalid and said the “ill-timed” and “ill-conceived” step had severely hit the common people, the farmers and the poor.
During a discussion on demonetisation, which was taken up after suspension of all business in response to notices given by a host of opposition members, a scathing attack was made on the government which strongly defended the step as one taken in national interest and to end corruption and blackmoney, which it linked to terror activities in the country.
Alleging that the information had been leaked to BJP units and 'friends of BJP', a number of opposition parties demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe into it.
During the course of 7-hour debate which remained inconclusive, there were repeated demands by the opposition members that the Prime Minister should be present in the House to listen to the members. Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said Modi, who did not come to the Rajya Sabha today, should at least be present tomorrow and possibly intervene.
Initiating the debate, Congress leader Anand Sharma used wit and humour to attack Modi, saying he was “insensitive” to problems caused to the common man.
The “ill-timed” and “ill-conceived” move has unleashed “economic anarchy” in the country and benefited few, he said.
“Your government is insensitive,” he said, adding Modi was riding a bullet train in Japan when old, women and common man were queueing up at banks at 3 am to get currency to buy their daily needs.
Questioning the government's contention that the step was taken to end the menace of black money, the former Union Minister said a bigger Rs 2000 note has been brought, which is similar to the paper on which 'churan' is sold and “sheds colour”.
Sharma alleged that the information on demonetisation was selectively leaked. “Your BJP units have deposited crores of rupees (just before the November 8 decision),” he said.
He quoted some media reports to support his allegation, saying State Bank of India – the country's largest lender – knew of the decision way back in March and a Gujarati newspaper had in April published a report of move to withdraw 500 and 1000 rupee notes.
Congress says those questions are branded anti-nationals
Among those who demanded a JPC probe were Congress' Pramod Tiwari, JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav and CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury.
Congress is unequivocally opposed to black money and opposes any force that print counterfeit currency, Anand Sharma said while alleging that the government policy was to “benefit those who are your friends and hurt those who question you.”
He said the government, in one stroke, took away 86.4 per cent of the over Rs 16 lakh crore currency in circulation.
“Did the government think that 86 per cent of the currency incirculation was counterfeit or blackmoney,” he asked.
He said an atmosphere has been created in the country where questions cannot be asked and those doing so are branded as anti-nationals.
“The magnanimous Prime Minister allowed Rs 4000 of old currency to be changed... What right does the Constitution give the government to place restrictions on withdrawal of ones hard-earned money,” the Congress leader asked, adding one has to “beg to be allowed to withdraw his own money.”
He demanded a probe into “how many people bought more than Rs one crore of foreign currency and bullion” since April.
“This is a serious issue... you never kept secrecy (about the decision),” the Congress leader said.
He also wanted the Prime Minister to state where he got Rs 23,000-24,000 crore, estimated by the International Money Watch Group, for his Lok Sabha elections. He also asked if cheque or credit card payments were made to organise his rally in Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh a few days ago.
Sharma said Modi had in his Goa speech had stated that those standing in line at banks were those involved in 2G spectrum and coal scam as well as holding black money.
“I condemn the Prime Minister for calling the poor standing in queue for his Rs 4000-4,500, black money holders and scamster,” he said.
The Congress leader also referred to Modi's statement in Goa last week that certain forces were out to eliminate him and asked him to name the conspirators wanting to do so if the government has any such input.
“Congress and this House will not tolerate anyone trying to harm the Prime Minister of the country,” he said.
He took a dig at Modi for calling himself a 'sanyasi' (saint) and 'tapasvi', saying he was someone who “changes clothes five times a day”, has become the Prime Minister and travels around the globe.
Sharma demanded that the names of persons holding accounts in Swiss bank and those revealed in the Leichtenstein and HSBC lists should be made public. The names of bank loan defaulters above Rs 5000 crore should also be made public.
While the decision had put the common man to immense hardship by way of having to stand in long queues to lay hands on valid currency to meet daily needs, the information aboutdemonetisation was selectively leaked to the “friends of BJP,” Sharma alleged.
The move had branded 86 per cent of the currency in circulation black money and “everyone a criminal,” he said adding when Modi announced the plan it was expected that adequate arrangements would be made for dispensing new notes.
So banks and ATMs were shut on November 9 but the expectation of normalcy from next day were dashed with queues only getting longer by the day.