Curtailment of black money has been one of the major thrust areas of the Government especially in the recent years. However, with scrapping of Rs.500 and Rs.1000 notes as legal tender w.e.f. November 9, 2016, the subject has attracted widespread debate and needs to be understood in a holistic manner along with its implications for the economy.
2. In a common parlance, black money refers to the money which is generated through illegitimate means or by bypassing taxation system. Generation of black money in social, economic and political space has a debilitating effect on the conduct of public policy and the institutions of governance in the country. Black money together with counterfeit currency is also associated with crime and terrorism. While there is no official estimate of quantum of black money in India or abroad, a 2010 World Bank Report on shadow economies estimated it at 31 per cent of GDP of 162 countries in 2007 with India’s estimate pegged at 20.7 per cent of GDP comparing favourably with the world average. There have been other estimates which have placed size of India’s parallel economy at higher levels including a recent FICCI report which has estimated it to as high as 75 per cent of GDP.
3. As per RBI Handbook on Statistics of Indian Economy 2015-16, a total of Rs.16.42 lakh crore worth of currency was in circulation as at end-March 2016. Of this, Rs.14.18 lakh crore was in form of Rs.500 and Rs.1000 denomination notes, representing around 86 per cent of the value of total currency and coins in circulation. In terms of number of notes in circulation, Rs.500 and Rs.1000 denomination notes represent about 2200 crore notes, which were about 26 per cent of total notes in circulation. Therefore, it can be seen that the step would cause immobility of a major chunk of currency in the system which is expected to result in short term inconvenience for the public.
4. In order to curb the menace of black money, various measures have been taken by the Government both at policy level and enforcement on the ground. Some of important initiatives taken recently include (i) Constitution of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) under the Chairmanship a former Supreme Court Judge and implementing some of its recommendations; (ii) enactment of a new law viz. ‘The Black Money and Imposition of Tax Act, 2015’ to deal with black money stashed abroad; (iii) Introduction of ‘Benami Transactions Amendment Bill 2015’ enabling confiscation of Benami property (iv) Enhancing the sharing and exchange of information with foreign countries and proactive involvement in international efforts to combat tax evasion/ black money; (vi) Introducing Income Declaration Scheme, 2016; (vii) Use of information technology for mining of information; (viii) Prescribing requirement of PAN numbers on high value transactions, etc.; (ix) Taking action against hoarders through enforcement agencies; and (x) constitution of Multi Agency Group under Member (Investigation), CBDT for speedy investigations against Indian persons having undisclosed foreign assets.
Implications of Demonetisation
5. The recent step of declaring the existing stock of Rs.1000 and Rs.500 notes as illegal tender has addressed multiple issues with one stroke. Most importantly, it has straight away wiped out most of the illegal cash accumulated over a number of years from the system. This will have a direct impact on inflation as we will not have too much money chasing too few goods and excess money supply will no longer fuel price rise. Secondly, counterfeit currency circulating in the country has ceased to be of any value. Thirdly, it would curb the menace of corruption and terrorism as the existing black money was in a large way responsible for promoting the same. Fourthly, it would bring back a lot of money outside the system back into the financial system which can be used by the banks for onward lending for commercial activities. This would not only improve the rofitability of banks, but would also pave way for reduction of interest rates and partly address the problem of NPAs. Sixthly, it will help cleaning the process of election funding bringing more transparency and fairness in the manner of conduct of Elections. Seventhly, in due course of time, it would significantly help in improving tax collections as public would prefer to deal in white transactions by paying legitimate taxes. Eighthly, in respect of currency which is not deposited back in the banks (estimated anywhere between Rs.2-4 lakh crore, though figures would be known only after December 30, 2016), a space would be created wherein outstanding liability of RBI can be extinguished paving way for additional resources for the Government for being used for public purpose in phases without impacting inflation. Ninthly, with clean-up of black money, asset prices especially real estate would further decline thus making housing more affordable for public at large. Last, but not the least, it would significantly improve India’s image in the global arena as the country which respects the rule of law and where businesses can flourish through legitimate means paving way for large scale investments both from within the country and abroad. With all these implications, it can be inferred that this is perhaps the biggest surgical strike on black money since Independence. This is also another milestone in Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, though in a different sense.
6. An age old saying is “no pain, no gain”. This is apparently true for this initiative as well. An immediate fall out is squeeze of cash in the market which will impact public and businesses alike. While Government, Reserve Bank of India and banking system are working overtime to assuage the problem of cash crunch, it is expected to take some weeks before the system returns to normalcy. Many avenues have been opened to accept old notes for a specified time period which are predominantly linked to some Government system at the recipient’s end. New notes of Rs.500 and Rs.2000 are being released by RBI, which would provide some succor in the next few days. The Government and RBI have also provided certain flexibility including relaxing some conditions to ease out the transition phase including raising caps for withdrawal of money from banks/ ATMs, acceptance of old denomination currency in petrol pumps/ Government hospitals/ crematoria/ medical stores/ cooperative stores/ ticket booking counters for rail or air/ utility payments/ municipal taxes, waiver of usage charges at ATMs, deployment of mobile vans, and so on. Meanwhile, the public is requested to make optimum use of non-cash methods like payments through cheques, internet banking, mobile banking/ wallets, debit/ credit cards and so on.
7. While this move will help in cleansing the existing stock of black money, there is a need to ensure that black money does not resurface in another form in due course of time. For this purpose, stringent measures and monitoring would be required. This would include regulating the issuance of new large denomination notes especially of Rs.2000. Simultaneously, a set of policies will have to be put in place so that there is little incentive for black money. This may include encouraging electronic based transactions instead of cash based, discouraging high value cash transactions, keeping tax levels moderate and administration simple and transparent, closer monitoring of real estate and bullion transactions, combating corruption, ensuring greater transparency in public procurement, providing Government benefits in a seamless manner through Direct Benefit Transfer with beneficiary database seeded with Aadhaar numbers and so on. Migrating to Goods and Services Tax is a good opportunity to bring about simplicity in the taxation system which can encourage businesses to shun black money transactions. These measures, togetherwith use of advance Information Technology and stricter vigilance will take the country to newer heights, reduce income disparities and help realize the dream of inclusive growth more sooner than later. Meanwhile, RBI has prescribed incremental Cash Reserve Ratio for scheduled commercial banks at 100% on the increase in NDTL (net demand and time liabilities) between September 16 and November 11, effective the fortnight beginning November 26, 2016. This is intended to be a temporary measure to absorb surplus liquidity from the system.
Moving towards a less cash economy
8. The change of currency notes and resultant cash crunch in the system has led to a new opportunity for the country i.e. to move towards a cashless or less cash society in the medium to long run. Hon’ble Prime Minister, in his “Mann ki Baat” address to the nation has emphasized the need to use alternate methods of payments without relying heavily on cash. While India has come a long way from introduction of electronic funds transfer, the newer forms of payment have been developed in the recent years which hold significant potential to move towards a less cash economy. These include (i) Unified Payments Interface (UPI) which enables a person to transfer funds to any other person registered on UPI through mobile phone connected to internet; (ii) Digital wallets, such as SBI Buddy wherein money can be loaded to your mobile wallets (e-batua) and transferred to any other person using mobile numbers or bank details; (iii) Pre-paid, Debit or Credit Cards which can be used at ATMs, Point of Sales (PoS) Machines by swiping the cards; (iv) Aadhaar Enabled Payment Systems (AEPS) wherein funds can be transferred using Aadhaar numbers seeding with bank accounts; and (v) Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) wherein funds can be transferred from mobile phones without requiring access to internet connection by dialing *99#. There is a need to spread widespread knowledge and allay the fears amongst the public to use these facilities. Government of India has already initiated a major drive for sensitizing public to make maximum use of these avenues. India already has in place one of the finest payment infrastructure in the world. Simultaneously, issues like connectivity, security and ease of transactions, data protection and user charges are also being addressed. In the long run, this would provide a significant boost to the economy as more and more informal methods of business transactions migrate to the formal sector paving way for greater transparency, financial inclusion (both on deposits and credit side) and better tax compliance.
Disclaimer: NITI blogs do not represent the views of either the Government of India or NITI Aayog. They are intended to stimulate healthy debate and deliberation.
(Dr. Yogesh Suri is Adviser, NITI Aayog.)