Nearly 18 months after the government’s decision to scrap currency notes of ₹500 and ₹1,000, which accounted for over 86% of the currency in circulation at the time, large parts of India are in the throes of a severe cash crunch again. The government started acting belatedly on Tuesday in response to reports of cash shortages from States including Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh over a fortnight. Terming the shortage a manifestation of an ‘unusual spurt in currency demand’ over three months, the Finance Ministry has emphasised that the first 13 days of April recorded an increase in currency supply of ₹45,000 crore. Yet, thousands of automated teller machines are either not functioning or not dispensing adequate cash as banks are reluctant to divert cash to them at the cost of customers visiting branches for withdrawals. The Ministry has asserted that over ₹1.75 lakh crore of cash lies in reserves, which may now be deployed to meet the demand. On its part, the Reserve Bank of India has claimed there is enough cash in its vaults, but it has ramped up the printing of all notes. At the same time, it blamed the shortages on logistical issues of replenishing ATMs and said it is moving more cash to regions that witnessed high cash withdrawals.
Theories abound on how upcoming elections, starting with Karnataka and possibly ending with the Lok Sabha polls in 2019, have prompted a large-scale cash management exercise among political parties. Part of the retail love for cash is also being attributed to depositor fears about the impending Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill that makes it possible to deploy investor savings to bail out stressed banks and financial institutions. There could be some truth in these explanations, but the genesis of the current cash crisis is firmly rooted in the lack of system-wide thinking that went into the Centre’s big-bang note ban gambit. The government may have chosen to go for ₹2,000 notes post-demonetisation to remonetise the economy faster, but with lower denomination notes taking longer to flow freely, circulation wasn’t efficient and the big note has become a preferred mode for hoarding capital. That a plan to re-introduce ₹1,000 notes was later junked didn’t help; nor did the difference in the sizes of the new notes. As the RBI noted on Tuesday, recalibration of ATMs is still under way for the ₹200 note. Demonetisation may have been aimed at weeding out black money, but perpetuating dependency on the ₹2,000 note ignores an age-old heuristic for currency management that every denomination should be 2 to 2.5 times its preceding denomination. The current cash crunch shows how the consequences of the overnight demonetisation of November 8-9, 2016 continue to haunt us.
via Cash is still king: On ATMs running dry – The Hindu