There has not been a single case of social unrest, the government told the court, alleging “political overtones” in the arguments on petitions challenging Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to ban Rs 500 and 1,000 notes, which formed 86 per cent of the cash in circulation.
“The government is not sitting around doing nothing...In 10-16 days it will be all over,” said the Centre.
Responding to the court’s questions, the government also said it would not be possible to have a stock of printed notes ready before the notes ban announcement as it would have defeated the purpose of secrecy.
The Apex Court on Friday sought the Centre’s response on issues like whether district cooperative banks could be allowed to accept deposits in demonetised notes with some stringent regulations and why banks are unable to allow minimum weekly withdrawals of Rs 24,000 to customers.
While the high-decibel hearing was on, the bench, also comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, said though demonetisation has been carried with long-term beneficial aims, its immediate concern was to ease the inconvenience of the people and asked Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi to apprise it on December 14 on issues relating to district cooperative banks and the non-adherence to fixed weekly withdrawal limits by the banks.
Further, the bench said it would like to know the government’s stand on the demand for extending the order for hospitals to accept the fees in demonetised notes.
The bench said it would take a decision on December 14 on the plea of the Centre that proceedings in various high courts on petitions relating to demonetisation be stayed and transferred either to the apex court or one of the High Courts for adjudication.
Chidambaram, Sibal and former foreign minister and senior advocate Salman Khurshid, appearing for different clients, were quite vocal and critical of the Centre’s move on demonetisation.
Chidambaram said that the government is “rationing” the currency distribution because the short fall is going to continue for quite some time. He raised the issue of district cooperative banks which have been barred from accepting deposits in old demonetised notes and said that lakhs of peoples, specially farmers, are suffering due this.
“I don’t see any farmers here. This is all bogey,” the Attorney General responded curtly.
As lawyers were trying to out-shout each other for being heard, the CJI expressed his dismay, saying, “I have served 23 years on the bench and never seen such an unruly behaviour from the advocates.”
The CJI said that he was in his last week as a judge and would be “going with a heavy heart” that lawyers behave in such a manner on a sensitive issue like demonetisation.
While Rohatgi was making submissions, senior advocate, and former finance minister P Chidambaram said there are only four lakh crore new currency notes that have been pumped and since there were only four printing presses of RBI and the Centre, it was not possible to substitute demonetised currency notes before six-to-seven months.