New Delhi: The winter session of Rajya Sabha opened on Wednesday with a united opposition mounting an assault on the government over demonetisation, saying it had led to "economic anarchy" in the country and alleged selective leak of the information before the announcement which should be probed by a Joint Parliamentary Committee.
The government rejected as baseless the opposition charge that there was "leakage" of the November 8 decision and said everyone was taken by surprise which is why there are "initial" problems.
Joining ranks over the raging issue, parties like Congress, JD(U), RJD, SP, BSP, Trinamool Congress, Left and AIADMK slammed the government, particularly targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for making Rs 500 and Rs 1000 denomination notes invalid and said the "ill-timed" and "ill-conceived" step had severely hit the common people, the farmers and the poor.
During a discussion on demonetisation, which was taken up after suspension of all business in response to notices given by a host of opposition members, a scathing attack was made on the government which strongly defended the step as one taken in national interest and to end corruption and black money, which it linked to terror activities in the country.
Alleging that the information had been leaked to BJP units and 'friends of BJP', a number of opposition parties demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe into it.
During the course of 7-hour debate which remained inconclusive, there were repeated demands by the opposition members that the Prime Minister should be present in the House to listen to the members. Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said Modi, who did not come to the Rajya Sabha today, should at least be present tomorrow and possibly intervene.
Initiating the debate, Congress leader Anand Sharma used wit and humour to attack Modi, saying he was "insensitive" to problems caused to the common man. The "ill-timed" and "ill-conceived" move has unleashed "economic anarchy" in the country and benefited a few, he said.
"Your government is insensitive," he said, adding Modi was riding a bullet train in Japan when old, women and common man were queuing up at banks at 3 am to get currency to buy their daily needs.
Questioning the government's contention that the step was taken to end the menace of black money, the former Union Minister said a bigger Rs 2000 note has been brought which is similar to the paper on which 'churan' is sold and "sheds colour".
Sharma alleged that the information on demonetisation was selectively leaked. "Your BJP units have deposited crores of rupees (just before the November 8 decision)," he said.
He quoted some media reports to support his allegation, saying State Bank of India - the country's largest lender - knew of the decision way back in March and a Gujarati newspaper had in April published a report of move to withdraw 500 and 1000 rupee notes.
Among those who demanded a JPC probe were Congress' Pramod Tiwari, JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav and CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury.
Congress is unequivocally opposed to black money and opposes any force that print counterfeit currency, Anand Sharma said while alleging that the government policy was to "benefit those who are your friends and hurt those who question you."
He said the government, in one stroke, took away 86.4 per cent of the over Rs 16 lakh crore currency in circulation. "Did the government think that 86 per cent of the currency in circulation was counterfeit or black money," he asked.
He said an atmosphere has been created in the country where questions cannot be asked and those doing so are branded as anti-nationals. "The magnanimous Prime Minister allowed Rs 4000 of old currency to be changed... What right does the Constitution give the government to place restrictions on withdrawal of ones hard-earned money," the Congress leader asked, adding one has to "beg to be allowed to withdraw his own money."
He demanded a probe into "how many people bought more than Rs 1 crore of foreign currency and bullion" since April. "This is a serious issue... you never kept secrecy (about the decision)," the Congress leader said.
He also wanted the Prime Minister to state where he got Rs 23,000-24,000 crore, estimated by the International Money Watch Group, for his Lok Sabha elections. He also asked if cheque or credit card payments were made to organise his rally in Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh a few days ago.
Sharma said Modi had in his Goa speech had stated that those standing in line at banks were those involved in 2G spectrum and coal scam as well as holding black money. "I condemn the Prime Minister for calling the poor standing in queue for his Rs 4000-4,500, black money holders and scamster," he said.
The Congress leader also referred to Modi's statement in Goa last week that certain forces were out to eliminate him and asked him to name the conspirators wanting to do so if the government has any such input. "Congress and this House will not tolerate anyone trying to harm the Prime Minister of the country," he said.
He took a dig at Modi for calling himself a 'sanyasi' (saint) and 'tapasvi', saying he was someone who "changes clothes five times a day", has become the Prime Minister and travels around the globe.
Sharma demanded that the names of persons holding accounts in Swiss bank and those revealed in the Leichtenstein and HSBC lists should be made public. The names of bank loan defaulters above Rs 5000 crore should also be made public.
While the decision had put the common man to immense hardship by way of having to stand in long queues to lay hands on valid currency to meet daily needs, the information about demonetisation was selectively leaked to the "friends of BJP," Sharma alleged.
The move had branded 86 per cent of the currency in circulation black money and "everyone a criminal," he said adding when Modi announced the plan it was expected that adequate arrangements would be made for dispensing new notes.
So banks and ATMs were shut on November 9 but the expectation of normalcy from next day were dashed with queues only getting longer by the day.
Power Minister Piyush Goyal, who spoke on behalf of the ruling side, rejected as baseless the opposition charge that there was "leakage" of the decision and said everyone was taken by surprise which is why there are "initial" problems. "There is no politics in it. It is a step taken in national interest," he said, adding it will help the country in the long run.
"If anyone has the strength to take on black money and corruption, it is the BJP government and Narendra Modi," the minister said.
He claimed that common people are out in support of the government's move which is aimed against graft and terror and that the step will lead to curbing inflation and tax rate may come down.
Goyal claimed that the country has welcomed this initiative of the Modi government and it is natural that some people who have black money and are indulging in corruption and black money are worried about it. "There is no curb on honestly-earned money. So nobody should have a problem," he added.
"Desh me imandaar ka samman hua hai aur be-imaan ka nuksaan hua hai, (The honest have been honoured and the dishonest have faced losses)," he said.
"I am confident that public is understanding the initial problems because the decision was kept a secret. No honest tax-payer will lose a single rupee. The loss will be of those who have amassed wealth through corruption and black money and the public should also support the government in the move," he said.
Goyal said some pain and difficulty in the implementation of such a decision is inevitable but despite that the people have strongly supported the move.
He urged all the parties to support the move so that the House gives a message to the country that all are against corruption and black money.
To Sharma's charge that those questioning the government are labelled as anti-national, he said, "Understandably if someone opposes it (demonetisation), questions will be raised on whether they are against ending the menace of corruption and black money in the country."
Taking a dig at the opposition, he said, "We thought all political parties will support us in Parliament. But for some reasons they have opposed the move. It seems they are worried due to the large public favouring it and supporting the government despite the problems being faced by them."
Goyal also said BJP has already put out its poll expenses on the website and after this step all will think before indulging in corruption and black marketing.
Responding to issues raised by the opposition, he said some people have been saying that seven or ten days' time should have been given. "Secrecy is most important for such a step," he added.
Listing the benefits of the move, Goyal said interest rates will come down, inflation would be curbed and even the tax rate will come down. "If 5 people don't pay tax, the brunt is borne by the rest of 95 percent people. And if taxes are paid, there will be more money with the Centre to carry out welfare works for farmers, women, SC and ST sections," he added.
With regard to allegations that the move has been timed to benefit BJP in the UP elections, he said such a statement itself implies that people support this step.
To demands that the government should declare the names of people who have Swiss Bank accounts, Goyal said such a step will make it difficult for government to obtain more information about such accounts.
But some people want the government to make the error of declaring these names and then it will have difficulty in getting this information, he claimed.
Sharma said an "undeclared emergency" has put common people to grave inconvenience while crime money, ill-gotten wealth and that accrued through corruption or tax evasion is black money.
The Prime Minister should answer if he considers money in the market, or in households, or with farmers, workers and employees was also black money, the Congress leader questioned.
Ram Gopal Yadav, who was expelled from SP but spoke on behalf of the paryt, joined Anand Sharma in alleging that information on demonetisation was "leaked" and termed it as a scam. He sought a JPC probe.
"A BJP leader in Punjab had tweeted on November 5 about the new Rs 2000 note. How did this happen? This is an issue of concern. There is a scam in this. This should definitely be probed," he said.
The government decision has led to lot of hardships in the villages and the villagers have stopped buying normal things like toothpaste and hair oil, he said.
The common people, especially the poor and the housewives were put to great hardship through this move and if elections are held today they will teach this government a lesson, said Yadav, a leader of poll-bound Uttar Pradesh.
"Do not hold elections now. If you meet and ask for votes from housewives in villages, they will beat you up with 'belan' and you will have to embalm your back with turmeric," he said, adding that you might lose elections if you hold early polls.
"Elections are not fought with money power. You cannot win elections through money power. No one can win elections like that. Elections are won only by winning the hearts of people," he said.
Yadav said the entire House was against corrupt and drug money but lamented that an impression is being created that those opposing this are against curbing black money which is erroneous.
On the Prime Minister's remarks that he might be killed because of his move, Yadav said there should be a probe to find out who these people are and precaution should be taken. He said it should also be probed if the statement was made only for political motive.
AIADMK leader Navneet Krishna said the RBI and the government have failed the rural people with this move which has threatened the saving habit of people.
JD(U) Sharad Yadav, while seeking a JPC probe into the suspected leak, said the sudden move was akin to "jumping out of a moving train".
He said unlike the rich, who the PM said were standing in queue, it was the poor, handicapped and old people who were doing so to get their hands on their hard earned money.
He alleged that while loans worth Rs 7,000 crore was written off today by banks including Rs 1,200 crore of Vijay Mallya and said the Prime Minister has made the honesty of the country to stand in queues.
Yadav also took a dig at Arun Jaitley, saying he was sure that the Finance Minister was not part of the decision making on demonetisation, because if he had been, Jaitley would have tipped him off. This remark left most members including Jaitley laughing.
CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury said of the 130 crore population in the country, only 2.6 crore have credit cards. He took a dig at Modi and narrated the infamous quote of Queen Marie Antoinette during the French revolution who had said that people can eat cakes when they don't have bread. "We have Modi Antoinette who says 'If you don't have paper, use plastic'".
Launching a scathing attack on government's move, Pramod Tiwari (Cong) compared the Prime Minister to mythological demon Bhasmasur, the mythological demon who had the power to burn and turn into ashes anyone whose head he touched with his hand. "This move by government will impact rabi crops, wheat and potatoes, and have left farmers in distress," he added.
Tiwari said Modi had compared the currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 to scrap, which is wrong as the promisory note mentions that the government 'promises' to pay the owner that much amount.
To this, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said Modi had only said that these denomination notes will be scrap for the corrupt people.
Tiwari compared Modi to dictators Muammar Gaddafi, Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, which drew sharp criticism from the BJP benches with Naqvi and Ravi Shankar Prasad asking the Chair to expunge the remarks. But Tiwari stood his ground.
Tiwari claimed that the government has taken this step to help its industrialist friends. He demanded that a Joint Parliamentary Committee should be formed to probe the issue.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Venkaiah Naidu said the exercise to take out Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes is "temporary pain for long term gain".
"Prime Minister wants a behavioural change in the country... This is a war on corruption and black money and you (Opposition) have to decide which side you are on," he added.
Listing the efforts made by the NDA government to weed out corruption and black money, the Union Urban Development Minister said that in its first cabinet meeting the government has cleared the proposal to set up a special investigative team on black money. "We fought the elections in 2014 on corruptions and scams. People expected us to take a clear cut stand," he said.
Attacking the Opposition, the Minister said he expected an enlightened debate in the House.
Stating that government is following all the developments in the issue, he informed that the Prime Minister is holding review meeting everyday and the Finance Minister is closely monitoring the situation.
Naidu said that according to information on the internet, the parallel economy in India is 22.2 per cent of country's total economy, while it is 8 per cent for the US.
After Naidu's speech, Deputy Chairman P J Kurien said that the discussion is not over and will continue tomorrow from 2 PM.
To this, some members said the debate is very important and it should start from 11 AM by suspending the Zero Hour and the Question Hour.
Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said the discussion is under Rule 267, which means all business has to suspended.
Kurien replied that the rule was applicable for today and if it has to be put for tomorrow's discussion, then a motion has to be moved tomorrow at the appropriate time.
Azad also demanded that the Prime Minister should also be present in the House during the discussion. Kurien adjourned the House for the day saying discussion will be done at 2 PM unless Members move a motion....