Demonetisation significantly disrupted economy: Par Panel

Demonetisation resulted in “significant disruption” in the economy and threatened economic output as it hit “very hard” trade and level of consumption, a Parliamentary panel said on Monday.

The multi-party Committee on Subordinate Legislation minced no words in saying that it was “anguished” that such a “major exercise” has been carried out “without any adequate survey or research” on the needs of different sectors.

It also did not want the government to paint critics as “somehow anti-national or pro-corruption”, while insisting the need to fight corruption but not harass the “honest, hard working and tax paying citizens”, who were “made to suffer”.

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The committee was also unhappy with the Ministry of Finance for not tabling the notifications issued by the Reserve Bank of India on demonetisation citing the RBI Act does not have such a provision.

Acknowledging that demonetisation was an effort to combat corruption, tax evasion, fake currency and black money, the panel said, “inevitably, it is the low-income and rural households who have been hit hard by the currency reform.”

“Though the Ministry (of Finance) took steps to mitigate the effects, it cannot be ignored that it created significant disruption throughout the economy and threatened economic output,” the 15-member committee headed Congress MP T Subbarami Reddy said.

The demonetisation, which was announced on November 8, 2016 night, “weighed heavily on manufacturing sector” while it hit trade and level of consumption “very hard”.

While appreciating the efforts to move towards cashless economy, the committee cautioned the government that India’s economy relies predominantly on cash, and said the effects of demonetisation were “greater than anticipated”. The restrictions on withdrawal of cash were made uniform for all customers without considering the needs of different sections of society and businesses.

It reminded the government that the country’s economy is heavily dependent on cash as only less than half of the population uses banking system for monetary system.

During its meetings with officials and stakeholders in four centres, the committee also “raised serious” questions about the preparedness in handling such an exercise.

Taking note of seizure of fake currency of new Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 notes, the committee wanted the government to assess the veracity of such reports and take corrective steps. DH had last week reported that authorities have seized at least 29,733 fake notes of Rs 2,000 denomination since the new note was introduced in November last year following demonetisation.

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EC, MHA at loggerheads over Srinagar turnout

The “miserably low turnout” in Srinagar bypolls has prompted the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to put the blame on Election Commission, claiming it had advised against going ahead with the exercise.

Sources said the MHA had advised the Election Commission against holding the bypolls now in Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency, warning that the situation was not conducive enough for such an exercise.

They claimed they had conveyed to the Election Commission that there is an atmosphere of fear and that could have an impact on the turnout.

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(Hundreds of protestors stormed a polling station at Pakherpora in Chrar-e-Sharief area)

The voting for Srinagar seat, which took place on Sunday, witnessed unprecedented violence in which at least eight persons were killed.

Only 7.14% of 12.61 lakh voters, the all-time low, ventured out to vote on Sunday while it had recorded 26% polling in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. In 1989, National Conference’s Mohammad Shafi Bhat was elected unopposed.

The previous record for the lower turnout was in 1999 when 11.93% polling was recorded. In the 1999 election, Omar Abdullah had defeated Mehbooba Mufti, who is now Chief Minister, in a straight contest.

The security establishment was of the view that people may not dare to come out to vote. The state was also preparing to hold panchayat elections.

Rebutting MHA’s claims, EC sources said it was a Constitutional obligation to hold the election by April 16. The state government was consulted as it was responsible for law and order.

It said the EC was not bound to consult the MHA as it was “only responsible” for provide paramilitary forces.

EC sources said the state had informed about its preparation for a free and fair polls besides upgrading the security of leaders and candidates. “In the assessment of EC, if prevailing conditions were conducive for holding panchayat polls by the state, then holding of Parliamentary elections is also possible,” the sources said.

In a statement, the CPI(M) also said the “miserably low turnout” has reduced the electoral process to a “total farce” and it displayed the “deep degree of alienation” of the people in Jammu and Kashmir.

Acknowledging that country’s internal security and sovereignty is non-negotiable, the CPI(M) Polit Bureau said this could only be strengthened by the involvement of the people.

“This in turn can only happen through a political process which as was agreed to by this BJP government and announced by the Home Minister after the all Party parliamentary delegation visited the state. This process was to be through both confidence building measures and the initiatives for a comprehensive political dialogue with all stakeholders. Though promised, this was never followed up till date by the central government,” it said.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Apr 11, 2017)

Death sentences touch an all-time high: Amnesty

Sentencing people to death is increasing across the globe with 2016 reporting the highest in recent times, including India doubling its numbers from the previous year, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.

The report ‘Death sentences and Executions in 2016’ showed that 3,117 people were sentenced to death in 55 countries last year, in a significant increase of 1,988 in 2015. It exceeds the record-high total that the Amnesty reported in 2014 (2,466).

India reported 136 death sentences last year, a rise from 75 in 2015.

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Among India’s neighbours, Pakistan had the highest number of death sentences at 360 followed by Bangladesh at 245. Sri Lanka had 79 death sentences last year.

“Amnesty International recorded significantly higher numbers of death sentences imposed in Bangladesh, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, Thailand and Zambia than in the previous year. However, decreases were particularly noticeable in Egypt and the US,” the report said.

While no execution was reported in India last year, at least 1,032 people were executed in 23 countries. In 2015, there were 1,634 executions in 25 countries worldwide. The number of executions could rise as Amnesty said it could not access data from China, which is a “state secret”.

Excluding China, 87% of all executions took place in just four countries – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan.

For the first time since 2006, the US was not one of the five biggest executioners, falling to seventh behind Egypt. The 20 executions in the US was the lowest in the country since 1991, the report said.

At least 18,848 people were on death row at the end of 2016. Public executions were carried out in Iran and North Korea. Reports indicated that at least two people who were under 18 at the time of the crime for which they were sentenced to death were executed in 2016 in Iran, it said.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Apr 11, 2017)

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