New notes’ seizures: Diversion likely before reaching banks, say some stakeholders

New Delhi, Dec 13 (IANS) While the cash-starved country continues to queue up outside banks and ATMs even a month after demonetisation, the never-ending bulk seizure of new currency notes from across India has put a question mark on the efficacy of the whole exercise.

It has also got many to point fingers at the ambitious demonetisation move itself that has been touted to be a war on the parallel black economy and corruption.

The seizure of new currency notes running into several crores from across the country has continued unabated since the November 8 announcement of the demonetisation by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with officials of the CBI, Enforcement Directorate, the Income Tax Department and the police nabbing several people, including officials of private banks and the Reserve Bank of India.

The seizures have been across the country, including Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Hyderabad, Odisha, Punjab and Delhi.

On Tuesday, former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said demonetisation was “the biggest scam of the year” and demanded an investigation into how some people were managing to get bundles of new Rs 2,000 notes while the masses struggle to withdraw even one.

“I can’t get a Rs 2,000 note, yet crores in Rs 2,000 notes found their way to individuals being raided all over the country,” Chidambaram told reporters in Nagpur.

On Saturday, raids across the country yielded a haul of over Rs 32 crore ($4.8 million) in new currency notes that included Rs 2.6 crore from a law firm in Delhi, Rs 5.7 crore from the bathroom of hawala operator in Karnataka’s Challakere and Rs 24 crore in new notes in Vellore of Tamil Nadu.

On Monday, the authorities seized Rs 1.55 crore from a cooperative bank in Jaipur while Rs 1.5 crore were confiscated from a businessman’s house in Assam.

On Tuesday, Rs 93 lakh in new currency notes were seized in Karnataka and Rs 13 lakh from a house in Gujarat’s Vadodara.

While the opposition has been up in arms against the Modi government over the suffering of the commoners due to demonetisation, the “leakage” of the new currency notes from the system has led to accusations of a scam.

“A very big level scam is going on. The government should immediately call a CBI probe on this. In the normal course, small bank managers cannot give such huge amount of new notes,” All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA) General Secretary C.H. Venkatachalam told IANS.

He said that such huge amounts cannot get diverted without “the connivance of some top people”.

Venkatachalam also pointed to the possibility of the money being siphoned off before entering the banking system. “If the money is being procured directly from printing presses, then it is shameful,” he added.

A senior bank official in the national capital too asserted the leakage was not from the banks.

“The flow of this kind of money from the banks is not possible. From where the money is leaking is a thing that needs to be found out but it cannot be without the involvement of some big players, including bank officials,” the official, on the condition of anonymity, told IANS.

However, Bank Employees’ Federation of India General Secretary Pradip Kumar Biswas attributed the leaks to a “nexus” between bank officials and customers and ruled out the possibility of the new notes getting diverted before entering the banking system.

“It is highly unlikely, if there were incidents of money going out directly form the printing press without entering the system, we would have reports of that,” Biswas told IANS.

“ATMs have been running dry, banks have been rationing withdrawal due to inadequate supply of money, so it is very hard to believe that some people have actually managed to get huge amounts of new notes,” Biswas contended.

Some did not rule out the possibility of counterfeit versions of the new notes having already infiltrated the system.

“There is a likelihood of counterfeit notes of Rs 2000 having already come into circulation,” an All India Reserve Bank Employees Association official told IANS on condition of anonymity.

Within a month of their release, police have seized some counterfeit of the highest-denomination Rs 2,000 notes. But many on examination have been found to be colour photocopies of the real ones.