By Pritesh Samuel
In a surprise move, the Narendra Modi government announced on the night of November 8 that the existing US$ 7.5 (Rs 500) and US$ 15 (Rs 1,000) currency notes will be withdrawn from public use from the following midnight. The move is the government’s boldest step yet to curb the circulation of black money and counterfeit currency as well as control inflation. Only twice before, first in 1946 (a year prior to independence) and then in 1978, has the government taken such a decision to demonetize high value currency.
As soon as the announcement was made on Tuesday night, long queues were seen at ATMs and banks to either withdraw US$ 1.5 (Rs 100) denominations or deposit the 500 and 1000 rupee denominations. All banks and ATMS will be closed on November 9 to replace the older denominations. Banks are expected to re-open on November 10 while ATMs are expected to commence limited operations from the same day itself.
To alleviate inconvenience in the near term, airline ticketing counters, government hospitals, pharmacies, and railway reservation counters will accept the old currency notes until November 11. The older currency denominations can be exchanged or deposited at banks until December 30.
What can customers do?
- Once ATMs are functional, there will be a withdrawal limit of US$ 30 (Rs 2,000) per card up to November 18. The limit will be raised to US$ 60 (Rs 4,000) per day per card from following that day.
- Cash withdrawal using a check will be subject to a cap of US$ 150 (Rs 10,000) per day, including an overall limit of US$ 300 (Rs 20,000) in a week. This includes ATM withdrawals up until November 24.
- Foreign tourists departing or arriving from international airports who have 500 or 1,000 rupee notes up to US$ 75 (Rs 5,000) can exchange them for new notes or other legal tender and facilities.
- To exchange the old 500 and 1000 currency notes, customers can go to any bank and exchange up to US$ 60 (Rs 4,000) with a valid identification. For amounts over that, customers will need to go to their own bank, which they have an account with. If the customer wishes to go to a bank that they don’t bank with, they will be required to give valid identification and bank account details for electronic fund transfer to the customer’s account.
- If someone does not have a bank account, they can deposit their old currency notes in a friend’s/relative’s bank account as long as they have written permission and valid identity proof.
- For those unable to exchange or deposit by December 30, India’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), will allow customers to exchange the older currency notes at specified offices; these guidelines will be issued later.
- Non Resident Indians (NRIs) will be able to exchange and deposit in their Non Resident Ordinary Rupee (NRO account).
While the general public, small time traders, mom-and-pop shops, fruit and vegetable vendors will suffer in the immediate term, there are other groups who will also feel the pinch.
Political parties: Political parties use monetary rewards to influence elections giving away freebies and cash itself, particularly in rural areas to gain votes. Political parties also receive donations in cash without any records. Reports say that around 75 percent of the source of funds to political parties is unknown. With important state elections coming up, political parties and leaders will have to actually work and come up with creative ways to woo the voting bank.
Gold: This is another area where tax evaders hide their wealth. The latest development will tighten up retail trade and bring down the demand for gold. India is a major importer of gold and thus, the import bill could likely come down.
Real estate: Real estate developers and small traders typically deal in cash to avoid paying tax, and this is one sector where a significant amount of money is unaccounted for. With the latest ruling, the real estate sector will become on par with global economies affected by market prices. Prices of real estate is also expected to drop.
Credit card companies: Credit card transactions are expected to soar following the ban on use of old currency notes. Such companies are also expected to increase discounts and incentives.
Mobile/Digital wallets: Mobile/digital wallet companies such as Paytm and Mobikwik are likely to see a significant increase in transactions. The industry was facing challenges while competing with cash. Grocery stores like Big Basket and taxi aggregators such Uber and Ola all use mobile wallets, which will boost such transactions.
Startups: Startups are expected to benefit too. Analysts state that customers will be pushed to make online payments and cashless transactions. In order to compete, several startups have cash-on-delivery option but this has challenges as cash takes longer to account for and has a higher return rate. the push to online payments will help boost the industry.
The government’s move is a bold one as it aims to remove the large amounts of unaccounted cash being held by businesses, individuals, and households. The transparency is expected to boost the economy in the long term while easing inflation and raising tax collection. The crackdown will allow no time for people with unaccounted cash to think of alternative plans. Nevertheless, while the ruling aims to unearth black money, tax evaders can still get creative and use other ways to refrain from declaring their cash reserves. While many say that this is a watershed moment, the challenge will be for the government and banks to deal with the immediate logistics and massive overhaul in as seamless a manner as possible.
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