One week back, the finance minister Arun Jaitley said in the Rajya Sabha: “At no point of time, not for a single day, was the currency inadequate.”
Every government needs to defend decisions it has taken. In that context Jaitley’s statement is hardly surprising. Nevertheless, it not only mocks the common man of this country but also tells us how disconnected our ruling politicians are with the realities of the day.
Jaitley was essentially talking about the situation that prevailed in the aftermath of demonetisation or notebandi, as it is more commonly referred to as.
If there was no currency shortage for even a single day, why did ATMs have such long lines for close to a month? Is Mr Jaitley saying that people just gathered there because they had nothing else to do?
If there was no currency shortage even for a day, why did the government place limits on ATM withdrawals? It was churlish of Jaitley to have said what he did, given that 86 per cent of the currency in circulation was demonetised, the midnight of November 8, 2016, onwards.
The advantage with making speeches is that nobody asks questions at the end of it. Nevertheless, the lack of empathy among the politicians does get registered.
That apart, let’s look at the currency in circulation data published by the Reserve Bank of India every week. Take a look at Figure 1.
Figure 1 essentially shows the currency in circulation in the Indian economy in 2017. December 30, 2016, was the last date for depositing the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes which had been demonetised. Hence, I have taken the currency in circulation numbers from January 6, 2017, onwards, which is a week later.
The currency under circulation has been going up since 2017. On November 4, 2016, four days before prime minister Narendra Modi, made the announcement to demonetise Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, the total currency in circulation had stood at Rs 17.97 lakh crore. In comparison, on February 3, 2017, the total currency in circulation, the latest data available, stood at Rs 10.49 lakh crore.
Hence, the total currency in circulation as on February 3, 2017, was at 58.4 per cent of the level before monetisation was announced. Given this, it is not surprising that the currency shortage, even though it has eased, continues to persist. This goes against what the Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das recently said about the remonetisation process being complete.
Take a look at Figure 2. It basically plots the total increase in currency in circulation every week since January 6, 2017.
Figure 2:For the week ending January 13, 2017, the total currency in circulation grew by Rs 52,780 crore. Thereafter, the increase in circulation has fallen quite dramatically. One explanation for this may lie in the fact that initially more Rs 2,000 notes were being printed and that has now been replaced with more Rs 500 notes being printed, which is what the financial system needs, given the shortage of change. But at the same time, it takes four Rs 500 notes to replace money worth Rs 2,000.
The larger point being that the financial system is still away from having an adequate amount of currency. This, as I have explained in the past, is primarily because of the limited currency printing capacity of the government of India and the Reserve Bank of India.
The average increase in currency between January 6 and February 3, 2017, comes to around Rs 37,778 crore. At this speed, it will take many more weeks, before the financial system gets to a level, where it has adequate currency.
The total currency in circulation had stood at Rs 17.97 lakh crore before demonetisation. As of February 3, 2017, the total currency in circulation stood at Rs 10.49 lakh crore. The difference between this and the total amount of currency in circulation before demonetisation stands at Rs 7.48 lakh crore (Rs 17.97 lakh crore minus Rs 10.49 lakh crore).
At the speed of introducing currency worth Rs 37,778 crore per week, it will take close to 20 weeks for the currency under circulation to reach the pre-demonetisation level. One logic that has been offered is that the government may choose not to replace the entire currency.
Even if the government chooses not to replace the entire currency, at Rs 37,778 crore per week, it will take many more weeks before the currency in circulation stabilises at an adequate level.
While, the economics of it, can get tricky, even if the government chooses to go up to Rs 16 lakh crore and not Rs 17.97 lakh crore, it will still take close to 15 weeks to get to the pre-demonetisation level. Of course, the time taken can come down if the speed of money printing can be increased.
Long story short—both Jaitley and Das are essentially lying to the country in saying what they are. And that is something worth remembering and talking about, dear reader.