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Experiment gone amiss

Experiment gone amiss

On the second anniversary of the controversial note ban, the ruling and opposition parties are once again locked in an acrimonious debate if the decision to suddenly ban high-denomination currency notes in a televised address was right or wrong. Going by the hardships that common people had to face because of the decision, which was apparently made by the PM alone, the move was unpopular and uncalled for. The stated objective of the exercise – to eradicate the huge amount of black money stashed in cash, an impression shared by almost everybody from the common people to the economic pundits occupying high positions in the country's well-entrenched institutions that regulate the economy and financial affairs, met with unbelievable outcomes that there existed no such black money at all in the country. The government was of the opinion that the existence of black money is fuelling terror activities in Jammu and Kashmir as well as in the Maoist-Naxal stronghold was also found to be baseless. The idea that the disruption caused by the sudden removal of high-value currency notes will lead the country to a cashless economy was faulty in the very conception as the informal sector that constitutes nearly 50 per cent of the economy and provides employment to the majority of the people is run on cash and there was no need to change this overnight. In defence of the government's move, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday said that the decision has forced the people to put their cash in the banks and explain why they did not pay tax even when they had taxable money. The tax base has almost doubled after the decision of the note-ban in 2016, he said.

Two years on, the country has chosen to move on and there is little rancour or hard feeling left about the government or its decision to put the people in an unchartered territory where they had the money both in hand and in the banks but they could not use it. Disruption is an important management tool frequently used by new-age private business firms to discover the real potential of an enterprise stuck in a cycle of average performance and static growth. But so far, only small companies and start-ups have been using this technique. In big companies, time-tested fundamental principles of management are still considered the best bet. The question is whether a government should resort to such disruption to provide fresh impetus to the economy. An answer to this could be that the government has the moral right and the duty to explore all possible means in its bid to set the economy right that has not lived up to the people's aspirations and failed to lift the poor from an unending cycle of poverty and misery. In the last 70 years since the Independence, India has made some noticeable progress in eradicating hunger and homelessness besides fighting illiteracy and school drop-out rates with innovative schemes like mid-day meal and distribution of books, uniforms, and bicycles to poor students enrolling in government schools. But that is certainly not enough as the divide between the poor and the rich has only grown. However, the present day economy is as much about the poor as it is about globally-linked financial markets, the needs of big and small businesses and the autonomy of regulatory bodies that we have. Making a sense of this labyrinth is an exclusive domain of top-rated economists and management graduates who mostly come from high-profile elite universities and their knowledge about the ground situation is only theoretical. Can the economy be left entirely to them? Should the government and its Finance Minister, who are accountable to the people, be subservient to them?

One of the most vociferous critics of the demonetisation, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee left nothing to the imagination when it came to spelling out what she thought of the government's controversial move two years ago. Like everybody else in the country, she was also crestfallen when she saw people standing in the queue for hours for a paltry sum of Rs 2,000. The elderly, the workers at tea gardens, the daily wagers, the domestic help and the like suddenly ran out of money that can buy them essential items. She termed the government's move a financial emergency. Or did she call it super-emergency? From the day she began her political journey as a student leader, the poor, the distressed, the marginalised, the minority has been at the core of her politics — everybody knows about it. It is in the government's interest that her opinions are taken seriously as she is among the few politicians in the country who has first-hand experience of what the realities are at the grassroots.

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