By Darshan Maharaja
The demonetization of high-value currency notes by Indian PM Modi has taken everyone by surprise. While there is a plethora of commentary on this issue in India, it is surprising that there hasn’t been any discussion of the hassles faced by NRI’s due to this decision given there are about 25 million NRIs, and a sizable number of them are likely to hold Indian currency at any given time. Given Mr. Modi’s long history of wooing the NRI class for investments that hardly seems likely.
Firstly, the decision was announced at the very last minute, giving hardly four hours’ notice before the policy came into effect. The time difference with India only compounded this. The ‘Indian’ banks operating in Canada were suddenly revealed to be ‘Canadian’ banks after all, and in any event, since these banks are not exchange houses, they are anyway not in a position to exchange old currency notes for new ones. Sending currency notes by mail or courier is illegal pretty much everywhere in the world (remember that till 31st December, the old notes are still valid for depositing into bank accounts even for resident Indians, so they are still valid currency notes, but with a limited purpose). Many people have expressed dismay that the Indian Consulate/Embassy haven’t been helpful in this regard. However, governmental functions can only be discharged within the rules and in accordance with the directives of the ministry concerned. This is especially significant in the case of a sensitive ministry like Foreign Affairs. However much they may want to, the diplomatic personnel are restrained in their actions by the rules governing their work.
Apart from his track record with NRI’s, Mr. Modi is also famous for his efficiency that is in stark contrast to the general image of the political class in most countries, and especially in India. So, before we chalk up our present frustrations to usual government bungling, it would be proper if we hit the pause button and tried to think of reasons why this may actually have been a conscious decision instead.
In this context, the reports in recent years of some organized groups in Pakistan that have adopted a policy of printing counterfeit Indian currency notes and then smuggling them into India become relevant. These counterfeit notes fund terrorism and undermine the Indian economy. So, while it may be illegal for everyone to move currency internationally (except for entities like banks etc.), it would be relatively easy for these groups to move the (now useless) counterfeit currency to overseas locations, and then convert it to the new currency via the international branches of Indian banks. To prevent this possibility, it would be necessary to keep that route blocked until such time as the tumultuous situation within India gets stabilized.
It would, therefore, behoove us to have trust in PM Modi, and exhibit patience. What is causing our inconvenience may quite possibly be linked with the national security of India. This is of course not a carte blanche to Mr. Modi. If we do not see any developments in the future to address this situation, we should take it up with the Indian Consulate/ Embassy and demand that our old currency notes be exchanged. After all, none of that currency is black money. – CINEWS