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Wednesday 25 April, 2018, 8:12 pm

Opposition Attacks PM Narendra Modi On Notes Ban. Nitish Kumar Disagrees. Strongly

PATNA: On a day when the opposition launched an offensive against the government over the abrupt withdrawal of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1,000 notes, there was a rare exception. Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar, expressed his "total support" for the ban, introduced last week by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In parliament, which began its winter session on Wednesday, a cohort of other leaders he frequently leans on - including Mamata Banerjee - decried the ban on notes as a move that is punishing the poorest and weakest, who suddenly find themselves cashless.

"Fake notes will disappear," said Mr Kumar in his home state, sharing rare agreement with PM Modi, who has said the reform will attack the roots of black or untaxed money, counterfeited currency and corruption.

But eight days after the old notes were cancelled, with just a few hours' notice, banks are swarming with huge crowds desperate to get to the counter or an ATM to collect some new currency. A new version of the Rs. 500 note is still a rarity; the 2000 rupee note is being rejected by many vendors who say they cannot provide change for the high-denomination bill.

Nearly 48 billion dollars have been deposited in banks so far, as people turn in the old notes. And though the lines at banks in cities are long, it is in villages that a crisis is threatened with lakhs who are excluded from the banking system.

While acknowledging that the government's sudden move to ban high-value currency notes was causing hardship to the common man, Mr Kumar's remarks clearly suggested that he was not willing to join ranks with Ms Banerjee who led a protest march in the national capital on Wednesday against demonetisation. The Chief Minister, in fact, went a step further, urging the government to crack down on benami property as the next step to curb black money.

The government has repeatedly said it is working night and day to reconfigure ATM machines, which need bigger trays to stock the new currency. The Reserve Bank of India has also confirmed that it has made special arrangements to help villages by dispatching micro-ATMs, which are like the machines used in shops to swipe credit cards and are carried to remote areas to dispense cash.

For now, people can exchange Rs. 4,500 of old notes for new ones - after this swap, indelible ink is used on the customer to ensure it remains a one-time exchange; upto Rs. 24,000 can be withdrawn per week from a bank account; Rs. 4,500 can be withdrawn from an ATM per card per day.

In an all-day debate in parliament on Wednesday, opposition leaders like Anand Sharma of the Congress said they are not opposed to the reform, but to what they described as the lack of preparation to manage the cash crunch. The government has emphasized that if the notice for the initiative had been longer, the move would not have been effective.

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