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The court’s observation came as people queued up for hours at bank branches and ATMs across the country to deposit demonetised notes and withdraw cash. Photo: AFP
The court’s observation came as people queued up for hours at bank branches and ATMs across the country to deposit demonetised notes and withdraw cash. Photo: AFP

Demonetisation: SC expresses concern, Parliament chaos continues

Supreme Court says cases in high courts will help it understand the issues over demonetisation being faced locally

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday declined to stay proceedings in high courts against the scrapping of Rs500 and Rs1,000 banknotes, expressing sympathy for people lining up outside banks and ATMs to get their money out.

“People are affected. People are frantic. People have the right to approach the courts," a bench comprising Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur and justice Anil R. Dave observed, according to PTI.

The bench was hearing a plea filed by the centre seeking a stay on cases against demonetisation brought in various high courts. Attorney general Mukul Rohatgi submitted that any legal challenge to the 8 November demonetisation of high-value currency notes be heard only by the apex court.

The court’s observation came as proceedings in Parliament were disrupted for a third straight day by opposition protests and people queued up for hours at bank branches and ATMs across the country to deposit demonetised banknotes and withdraw cash.

The government has limited withdrawals on each debit card to Rs2,500 daily. It is allowing people to exchange demonetised notes once, up to a limit of Rs2,000, reducing it by more than half from Rs4,500.

“Last time you said there will be relief for people in the coming days but you have squeezed the exchange limit to Rs2,000 only. What is the difficulty," the bench asked Rohatgi.

Senior advocate and Congress leader Kapil Sibal, who appeared in the court for a batch of petitioners, cited difficulties in printing new currency.

“Printing currency is not the issue. Distributing it to lakhs of bank branches and ATMs will take time," Rohatgi clarified to the court.

Rohatgi said Sibal, who besides being a senior advocate is a politician from the opposition Congress, was exaggerating the situation. “It’s a political attempt in the court," he said. “You are turning the apex court into a political platform."

The matter will be heard again in the apex court on 25 November.

Both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, meanwhile, were adjourned early after repeated disruptions.

In the Lok Sabha, opposition parties demanded an adjournment motion, which would require a vote by the House, to debate the demonetization. The government has maintained it is ready for a debate that does not involve a formal motion or voting.

In the Rajya Sabha, opposition parties led by the Congress demanded the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to explain the demonetisation move.

“Congress is now saying that the PM should come (to the House), only then the debate will go on, demanding a JPC (joint parliamentary committee) probe. There is an attempt to divert from the issue," information and broadcasting minister M. Venkaiah Naidu told reporters. “They do not want Parliament to function..."

With some parliamentary and assembly by-elections scheduled for Saturday, the Election Commission raised concerns over banks’ use of indelible ink on the index fingers of people exchanging old currency notes for new. It wrote to the finance ministry to ensure the step does not affect polling.

In another development, the finance ministry on Friday warned artisans, workers and housewives earlier exempted from questioning for depositing up to Rs2.5 lakh in their bank accounts that they could be prosecuted if they are found to have helped in turning other people’s black money into white.

Banks will restrict cash exchanges on Saturday to senior citizens to focus on clearing the backlog of other activities that have been put on hold after the demonetisation, an official at the Indian Banks’ Association said. PTI contributed to this story.

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