Amid an environment obsessed with the government’s demonetization drive, Cians presents a series of blog posts dissecting the move minutely – while the first one sheds light on the whys, the remaining posts will explore the possibility of it being wise or just a superfluous exercise.
WHY IS 100 THE NEW ANGEL ON THE BLOCK?
Because 1,000 was demon(it)ized
Ask an Indian to write a creative piece on the country and there is an 80% probability that Jawaharlal Nehru’s famous “At the stroke of midnight…” quote will be mentioned therein somewhere. But that was before Bob Dylan’s iconic “The Times They Are A-Changin” was interpreted “literally”, ushering in an era where people were compelled to part ways with INR 500 and 1,000 currency bills, and fervently opt for lower denominations.
It has been almost 4 weeks since the INR 500 and 1,000 notes—India’s two big currency denominations that account for ~86% of the money in circulation by value—were declared invalid. What have followed since are frenzied dashes to the ATM, overworked bank officials, and long queues outside banks!
So why exactly was the demonetization bomb dropped on us?
India’s 50 cents!
India is an economy that runs on cash – while the cash-to-GDP ratio was less than 10% until 2001, by 2016, it has reached 12%. As per data, India’s “reserve money to broad money ratio” (an indicator of the scale of cash in circulation) is ~0.18 – this is 2X that of Mexico, 2.3X that of Japan, 2.5X that of the Netherlands, 3X that of Brazil, 3.5X that of China, 4X that of Canada, 4.5X that of the UK, and 6.5X that of Sweden and South Korea… well, you get the enormity of the idea.
An Economy of Antithesis
Let’s talk about financial development in India: The plethora of financial inclusion schemes – such as Swabhimaan Scheme, RuPay Card, Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana (PMJDY), Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT), No Frills Account, and Kisan Credit Cards – and rise in banking penetration from 9 branches per 100,000 individuals in 2004 to 13 in 2014, should ideally indicate an increasing usage of non-physical money; however, that is not the case. In fact, transactions through cheques and demand drafts have decreased from 4.1% in FY07 to 2.5% in FY12.
Kala Dhan* and Other Evils
As far ago as 2007, the World Bank had pegged India’s ‘black economy’ at 23.2% of the GDP – if assumed constant in the current times, this would indicate a size bigger than the overall economic size of countries such as Thailand and Argentina. A much more recent fact to reinstate the looming presence of kala dhan is the huge discrepancy in the percentages of currency circulation – while the total number of bank notes in circulation rose 40% between 2011 and 2016, the increase in number of INR 500 denomination notes was 76% and that of INR 1,000 denomination was 109% during this same period. Under the government’s black money declaration scheme, which ended in September 2016, 64,275 declarants disclosed unaccounted wealth amounting to more than $10 billion, greater than the GDPs of countries such as Bhutan, Maldives, Tajikistan, Rwanda, and South Sudan – this is still estimated to be merely 8% of the total potential number.
A significant portion of this kala dhan finds its way into political agendas – ~$4 billion was spent during the 2014 general election, while official spending only accounted for around $1 billion – and real estate. Moreover, an estimated $7–9 billion of terrorist funding is in cash and there are rife speculations of this funding emanating from kala (unaccounted, uncounted) dhan.
*Colloquial reference to black money
The Nation Wants to Know!
Is demonetization a master stroke or a dud? Was the government hasty in its announcement? Is this move only politically-motivated? How vast will be demonetization’s impact on black money and counterfeiting?
Keep watching this space for more information.
Authored by Shikha Dey