Replacing scrapped Rs500 and Rs1,000 notes may take six more months

Delays in replacing the currency risk prolonging the pain in the $2 trillion economy, where about 98% of consumer payments are made in cash


The finance ministry’s officials admitted the government is falling far short of meeting requirements for Rs100 currency notes. Photo: PTI
The finance ministry’s officials admitted the government is falling far short of meeting requirements for Rs100 currency notes. Photo: PTI

Mumbai: For people expecting respite from the government’s clampdown on cash, here’s a reality check: it probably won’t come soon.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration may need until May 2017 to replenish the stock of now worthless bills, according to Saumitra Chaudhuri, an economist who advised Modi’s predecessor. The government on 8 November banned Rs500 and Rs1,000 notes in a surprise move against graft and tax evasion.

Delays in replacing the currency risk prolonging the pain in the $2 trillion economy, where about 98% of consumer payments are made in cash. Deutsche Bank AG predicts the crunch could easily shave off a half-point from India’s growth in October-December, which could imperil its position as the world’s fastest-growing major market.

This is how Chaudhuri reached his conclusion, which he published in a blog post on the Economic Times’ website: Extrapolating from central bank data, he estimates that Modi’s move sucked out about 16.6 billion notes of the 500-denomination, and 6.7 billion Rs1,000 bills. That means more than 23 billion notes totaling Rs15 trillion.

Modi intends to replace these with new Rs2,000 and Rs500 bills. However, Bharatiya Reserve Bank Note Mudran Pvt., which prints the higher denomination currency, has a stated capacity of just 1.3 billion notes a month. That’s with working double shifts. Raise this to triple shifts and it becomes 2 billion bills, which means it will need until the end of 2016 to replenish in value the Rs1,000 notes.

Security Printing & Minting Corporation of India Ltd, whose capacity Chaudhuri estimates at 1 billion pieces a month, will need several more months to meet the Rs500 target, even if it joins forces with BRBNM, he said.

“Ergo, currency shortages will remain with us for many months and economic contraction will rule this period,” he wrote. “At the end of the period, confidence will be at new lows and recovery will take time.”

In what could make matters worse, the presses -- busy with the new bills -- have almost completely stopped printing Rs100 notes, Bloomberg Quint reported Wednesday citing central bank sources it didn’t name. These bills are the bread-and-butter of India’s $780 billion informal economy, which employs more than 90% of the workforce.

Finance ministry spokesman D.S. Malik rejected the assessment. “This is not correct, things will improve shortly,” he said. “Once supply of Rs 500 and Rs 100 notes increases and re-calibration of ATMs is over, which is underway on a fast pace, the situation will improve to a huge extent.”

The ministry’s officials, however, admitted the government is falling far short of meeting requirements for Rs100 notes. They declined to be identified, citing rules on speaking with the media.

In a teary-eyed appeal, Modi on Sunday requested Indians to bear the pain for 50 days. “After that, if any fault is found in my intentions or my actions, I am willing to suffer any punishment given by the country,” he said. Bloomberg

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