The Dark Face of Demonetisation

Image Source: Business Standard

In a time of demonetisation, we seem to have slumped into a new moral low. There are several anecdotal reports that are doing rounds that are pointing to this fact. Forced to queue up to lay our hands on the rationing of our own money, we are compelled to face the prospects of uncertainty overriding the quantity of cash available for us in the banks. This uncertainty triggers a feeling of discomfort, that rings in a fear of being left without the share of our money and we seem to have become insensitive and blind to what happens to persons who are queuing up next to us. There are few instances, where some among us have failed to reach out to ailing persons who were stuck by the weight of the stress of demonetisation. Some persons have even died due to the apathy of the bystanders. The less cash condition induced by demonetisation appears to have unleashed deep seated insecurities among us and rendered us incapable of compassion. It has become difficult to stand up for the plight of the poor. Those who dare to voice the concerns of the poor have been dammed as those who stand with the corrupt. The innocent victims of corruption today are themselves bundled as corrupt. It is amazing that we are anaesthetized and numbed to such an extent that we are unable to distinguish between the corruption and its victims. Demonetisation has effectively blurred the boundaries between corruption and its innocent victims. The victims have begun to look corrupt.

Right from its origin, demonetisation has become an operation that challenged the innocent to prove their innocence. With several among us going gaga over the so called surgical strike against black money, it has become difficult to interrogate this highly irresponsible act of our Government. The propaganda that accompanied it, dressed it as an action in the interest of our country. Moreover, it is narrated as pro-poor. We were told that it is an issue of short term pain and long term gain. Initially, an impression that it was an action against the rich and super rich in our country gave the muscle to stomach the pain, but as time passed by, its poisonous fangs began to become visible among the poor. Now that almost all of the roaming cash in high denomination has returned to the Government coffers and there is no indication of the landfall gain in terms of black money, the cat is out of the bag. It might be apt to ask this difficult question: ‘where is the black money?´ The fact that the Income tax officials have shown admirable urgency in nabbing the new black in the form of pink all over the country , also begs the question: what were they doing before demonetisation. They certainly did not require demonetisation per se to bring to book the black marketers. What it only indicates is that our impression that all of the black wealth exists as cash is indeed false. Hence, it might be right to say that what is positioned as a war on black money is indeed a war on the cash dependent poor of our country.

The entire citizenry of our country, particularly the poor become black listed as hoarders of unaccountable money in one single master stroke. Demonetisation has to be named for what it is. It is an anti-poor act of our Government. Even, before the 50 days time has lapsed, the banks have already begun to write off loans from the super rich. These huge loans are tabled as non-performing assets. This is an effective way of rewarding the defaulters of these loans. While the poor will have to explain, justify and legitimize every single Rupee that they might have reported to the banks, the Government is showing Nelson’s eyes to some 57 big loan defaulters, among who may stand who-is-who of our country’s big capital. We are not even told the names of these defaulters by the banks, because that is deemed as breach of confidentiality. Not less than Rupees 1.8 lakh crores have already been gifted to these super rich as write off or relief in the last three years. Since the banks belonged to the public sector, that money which was gifted to defaulting super rich was our money. This means the super rich have got their share of money while the poor who were promised 15 lakhs from the share of Black money are still kept waiting in the cold. This means the poor in our country are being looted to build ‘black capital’ of the super rich in our country. We see no seizing of the assets of the defaulters among the big capital holders but the poor and small-time businessmen are threatened with action by the long hand of the law.

The law exists for the poor and not for the super rich. The poor have no right per se to have wealth. If they have some money, they have to explain it. The money in the possession of the poor is de facto illegal. While this mode of thinking may look legitimate, does it not give a blanket cover to the super rich among us? Does that mean all incomes of the super rich are white and that of the poor are black at birth? While the Government gives free pass to the big capital, the gate is slammed on the poor. There is no discernable action against the black money stanched abroad and even the names of these tax evaders are kept top secret. Certainly black wealth cannot be addressed by demonetisation without acting on the sources of this wealth creation. We cannot put the burden of black wealth disproportionately on the poor of our country. This is exactly what is happening. It is almost a crime to be poor in our country. That is why the mask that hides the dark face of demonetization has to be removed. Moreover, there is an uncritical celebration of digital transactions as a mode of fighting black economy. Is that true? Just recall the Satyam scam. A lot of it involved creating fraudulent transactions using banks and other formal channels. It is time to understand the dark side of demonetisation and its gains and losses. We need a public audit of this devastating decision of our Government.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao