A Cheerless New Year by Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam (January 03, 2017)
Over the last couple of days I have frequently been returning to the content of the Prime Minister’s much-awaited address to the nation within hours of the beginning of the New Year. We had been hoping for some respite from the consequences of demonetisation and some good news for the New Year. Sadly, I came across nothing to cheer for.
We should have been wise enough not to have expected anything good from the PM. But, even this thin ray of hope was the creation of the PM, who had declared grandly on November 8 while announcing this ill-starred demonetisation that at the end of 50 days “the country would shine like gold.” And if the country did not shine like gold, he should be beaten with shoes on a public square and we should burn him.
We knew that being a political extremist, he has to use the loathsome language of an extremist. Even though India is not shining at all at the end of his deadline, and the glitter has in fact dimmed, nobody, no Indian, is thinking of beating their prime minister with shoes on a public square (or, in a private space), much less to burn him. However, we must note that we have been deeply saddened and disappointed by the callousness and cold unconcern he displayed in his address.
He did not have a word of regret for having created extraordinary difficulty for workers, the infirm, senior citizens. Nor did he have a single word of sympathy for the families of over a hundred people who died as a direct consequence of his note ban. Some unfortunate people simply dropped dead while standing in serpentine queues for hours. Others died because their entire lives’ savings were forcefully taken away from them. Yet others who had saved money for the marriage of their daughters died because of the money saved for their daughters were taken away from them and the marriages were cancelled. Such sorrow can only be felt by an Indian who has a daughter to marry. The PM did not think it fit even to mention them. That was heart breaking.
He was gloating over the fact that “never was so much money there in the banks.” This is nothing to cheer about, Mr Modi. This strikes fear in the hearts of people who know some basic economics. Such a high deposit to loan ratio can easily sink banks. It is not difficult to understand why. Banks pay interest on deposits to depositors and take interest on loans from debtors. The interest on loans is higher than the interest on deposits. This difference is the only legitimate source of income for banks which go as profits after deducting maintenance cost.
What is fearsome today is that very few people are taking loans from banks. Thus there is very little interest coming to banks while the banks have to pay a huge amount of interest to depositors. The banks might cut interest rates to save themselves from failing. That will also mean revision (downward) of interest on loans. As if he was doing a great favour to farmers, he announced a three percent cut in interest on certain farm loans. In today’s situation reduction in interest rates is a compulsion, not a favour.
The demonetisation programme’s goals have been shifting. First it was said to be elimination of black money in cash. It turned out that there was virtually no black money in cash. Then it was about stopping terrorism. Less said about it the better. Also, it was to stop counterfeiting, but the fact remains that counterfeit pink notes appeared in the market right at the launch of demonetisation.
As of now, there is no hope of a let-up in the difficulties of common people in days ahead. Oddly, the New Year eve address sounded like a budget speech. In the short-term, there is a lot to worry about. Even in the mid-term nothing is there to cheer about as the economy is in a free fall, largely because of demonitisation.