Amid unending queues, Modi seeks 50 days to overcome crisis (Roundup)

New Delhi/Panaji, Nov 13 (IANS) As hundreds of thousands thronged banks and ATMs across the country for a fourth day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday sought 50 days to tide over the nationwide cash crisis.

Addressing a public rally in Goa, Modi made an impassioned plea to citizens to give him until December 30 to weed out the ill-gotten wealth in India.

“I know what kind of powers I have taken on. I know the kind of people who will be against me now. I am looting what they had accumulated over 70 years,” Modi said at an indoor stadium in Bambolim village near Panaji.

“They will not leave me alive. They will destroy me. Let them do what they want. (For) 50 days, help me. The country should just help me for 50 days.

“This is not the end. I am openly saying, this is not a full stop… There are other projects in my mind to stop dishonesty and corruption.”

At one time, Modi, who returned from Japan on Saturday, halted for a few seconds to check his emotions while saying he had sacrificed his home and family for the sake of the country.

But with no end to the serpentine queues outside banks and ATMs by hundreds of thousands, opposition leaders hit out at Modi and demanded the currency spike be immediately withdrawn.

Men and women have been queuing outside banks to deposit or exchange their now worthless currency and withdraw cash from their accounts.

With the government putting caps on both, there has been no thinning of the crowds since banks reopened on Thursday after a day’s closure. The RBI urged people not to withdraw money and hoard.

“The Reserve Bank assures the public that enough cash in small denominations is available at the Reserve Bank and other banks,” RBI said.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal requested Modi to roll back the scheme and first jail those with illegal Swiss bank accounts.

The Aam Aadmi Party leader warned that if the massive cash crunch continued, it could lead to law and order problems that could spiral out of control.

He took on Modi for demanding 50 more days to streamline the system.

“Does this mean that the markets will remain closed for the next 50 days? How can farmers survive? Will people keep standing in queues for 50 days? He is only giving an emotional speech.”

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has been very critical of the demonetisation, called for an opposition front against Modi and even telephoned CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury. She said she and other political leaders would meet President Pranab Mukherjee over the issue this week.

The CPI-M said the government must continue with the validity of the old 500 and 1,000 rupee notes till money supply eases in banks and ATMs.

Claiming that the BJP leaders were alerted beforehand about the currency spike, the Congress sought a Supreme Court monitored probe into the alleged transactions just before November 8.

“There have been huge transactions in bullion, diamonds, foreign exchange and securities prior to the demonetisation,” said Congress leader Anand Sharma.

Meanwhile, with a bank closure in some parts of the country due on Monday, the Indian Banks Association said Rs 30,000 crore of cash, including lower denomination notes, were disbursed in the last three days.

It said ATMs were being recalibrated to handle the new series of Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 denomination notes.

Moved by the plight of the waiting millions, many bank branches have resorted to measures to ease their customers’ misery. A bank union leader accused the RBI of not rising to the occasion.

“There are around 125,000 branches of public, private, regional and rural banks across India and 20 RBI regional offices from where currency chests are dispatched to all these locations. But that is not happening quickly enough although RBI has received full currency stocks from the printing presses,” said All India Bank Employees Association Vice President Vishwas Utagi.

The situation was worse in small towns and far-flung rural areas where there were few bank branches and very limited ATMs and people were unable to exchange old notes or carry out banking transactions, he said.

An unspecified number of people have died during the crisis.

In Patna, a group of angry people broke the locked gates of a bank and forcibly entered it in Bihar’s Gopalganj district after being told there was no cash, police said.

But the Confederation of Indian Industry said the government move was a “masterstroke” that was likely to strike a blow at the heart of the illegal economy.

“While it is not possible to have a firm estimate of unaccounted wealth, it is widely estimated at around a fifth of India’s GDP or around $450 billion,” CII said in a statement here.