India’s shock bank note ban sparks cash chaos
Indians struggled to pay for basics goods like food and fuel yesterday and fretted about their savings, after the government withdrew 500 and 1,000 rupee notes from circulation in a bid to flush out money hidden from the tax man. The shock measure also sent shudders through the investment community on a day when the markets were also reeling at the election of Republican candidate Donald Trump as the next US president.
India’s National Stock Exchange share index slumped as much as 6.3 percent in early trade before recovering most losses to close the day off 1.3 percent. The currency move, announced late on Tuesday night by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, aims to bring billions of dollars worth of unaccounted wealth into the mainstream economy and curb corruption.
The biggest disruption in decades to cash transactions, which power much of the rural economy, comes months before a series of state elections including in India’s most populous Uttar Pradesh state.
Critics have warned that ordinary people who do not have access to the banking system will be hardest hit, and that Modi risks upsetting his ruling party’s support base of small traders and businessmen who largely deal in cash. It will also affect politicians running for office in a country where there is no state financing for elections and many campaigns are funded by unaccounted wealth.
“This is a pre-election disaster for political parties, the piles of cash sitting with them are worthless,” said one tax official, who asked not to be named.
Modi, however, came to office in 2014 promising a war against the shadow economy that won him support from middle-class Indians who accuse elite politicians and businessmen of cheating the system. “If elections can become cheaper as a result of this decision, it would be a good beginning,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told a news conference.
The replacement of the old currency was also designed to stop anti-India militants suspected of using fake 500 rupee notes to fund operations.
NOT ENOUGH CASH
From midnight, the larger bank notes ceased to be legal tender for transactions other than exchanging them at banks for smaller notes. Retailers refused to accept the bills, worth around $7.50 and $15 respectively, and people were unable to access ATMs after banks closed them down.
Deepak Urs, a staff trainer at a financial services company in India’s southern tech hub of Bengaluru, said he would need to take time off work to exchange his old notes.
“Once the ATMs start operating, there will be long queues,” he said. “Maybe tomorrow onwards, every two, three weeks, I will have to go the ATM or bank to get cash.”
India’s “black economy,” a term widely used to describe transactions that take place outside formal channels, amounted to around 20 percent of gross domestic product, according to investment firm Ambit. New bills of 500 and 2,000 rupees will be introduced from Nov. 10. Jaitley said it would take two to three weeks to replace the old notes, amid concerns over the availability of cash. — Reuters
AMRITSAR: An Indian fuel station employee counts 500 rupee notes as motorists queue at a fuel station in Amritsar yesterday. — AFP