Nationwide rally against India cash ban
KOLKATA: Tens of thousands of people joined nationwide protests Monday against India’s ban on highvalue banknotes, which organizers say has caused a “financial emergency” in a country that operates almost entirely on cash.
India is still reeling from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s shock decision nearly three weeks ago to pull 86 percent of the currency from circulation overnight, triggering a chronic shortage of cash.
Many ordinary Indians say they support the scheme if it forces the rich to pay their taxes by making them bank undeclared income, but economists have warned it could hit growth hard.
Around 25,000 people took to the streets of the eastern city of Kolkata, capital of West Bengal state, whose left-wing Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has warned of “riots and epidemics” if the ban continues.
Protester Sumit Sen said he had been forced to close his grocery shop after business slowed to a trickle.
“Running my grocery shop became impossible,” the 45-year-old told AFP, urging the government to reverse the move.
An estimated 6,000 rallied in Mumbai, India’s western commercial hub, police said.
“We are protesting against the undeclared financial emergency imposed by the government and the hardships people across the country are facing because of this illegal decision,” said Manish Tiwari of the opposition Congress party.
“The decision to demonetise highvalue currency was done without any authority and legislation and is clearly illegal.”
Owners of the banned 500 and 1,000 rupee ($7.30, $14.60) notes have until the end of the year to deposit them in a bank, and can only directly exchange a small number for new currency.
But authorities have struggled to print enough new notes to meet demand and economists say the ensuing cash crunch will hit growth.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a respected economist, said last week it would shave at least two percentage points off growth, which topped seven percent in the first half of the financial year.
Indian supporters of the Youth Congress and members of the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) take part in a rally against demonetization in Ahmedabad on Monday. (AFP)