Answering criticism over demonetization, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asserted in Lok Sabha that the timing for the decision was perfect as the economy was doing well and hit out at Congress whose record he questioned with regard to various issues. Replying to a debate on Motion of Thanks on the President's Address which was adopted by the House later amid walkout by Congress, he replied point-by-point to the issues raised by the Opposition, including surgical strikes and allocations for MNREGA, agriculture sector and for Scheduled Castes. Opposition had moved 190 amendments to the Motion which were negated.
In his 90-minute speech, which was punctuated by protests by some Opposition members at certain points, Modi also raised pitch for simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and Assemblies, asking all parties to consider the proposal, rising above political considerations as "everybody will face some difficulty" if it is implemented.
On demonetization over which he has been under sustained attack, the Prime Minister asserted that the timing of the decision announced on November 8 last year was perfect.
"Some people have said why was this (demonetization) decision taken when the economy was doing well...It was the best time for demonetization as the economy was strong. Had the economy been weak, then we could not have done it successfully," he said. In this regard, he gave the example of a patient who has to undergo a surgery. "Before subjecting a patient to surgery, a doctor checks all the parameters of the patient and only when those parameters are fine, is the operation done," he said. He also emphasised that the decision was not taken in a haste as contended by some sections. "Don't assume that Modi does anything in a haste. For that you will need to study Modi."
Acknowledging that demonetization had brought "difficulties" to the people, the Prime Minister said, however, that the decision was not taken for any political mileage but for the benefit of the poor. "We had to take it and took it," he said. Modi listed out the steps taken by his government to curb black money, including setting up of SIT, tightening the law on benami, Real Estate Bill, making PAN requirement mandatory for cash transactions of Rs 2 lakh and above and revision of tax treaties with countries like Mauritius, Singapore and USA.
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"Had it been for political benefit, you would have done it," he told the Congress. Explaining why November 8 was chosen for the demonetization decision, the Prime Minister said post-Diwali is usually a period when the business cycle subsides after peaking during the festival season.
He said he was aware that there would be some problems for 15-20 days and things would move towards normalcy in 50 days. "Today I can see that whatever I had analysed, we are moving in that direction," he added.
To questions regarding change of rules 150 times after demonetization announcement, Modi said it was done to find ways to ease problems of people.
"On the other side, there were people who were trying to find ways to adjust their black money," he said and narrated a Hindi couplet to say that the government wanted to be a step ahead of those indulging in frauds.
Hitting out at Congress for raising the issue of change of rules 150 times on demonetization, Modi said the previous UPA government had changed rules regarding MNREGA 1035 times during its implementation over six years.
Spelling out benefits of demonetization, he said it has brought everything on the record, including details regarding who has deposited money, where he has deposited and how much has been deposited.
"There was a time when Income Tax officials used to operate arbitrarily. But that is history.... Now by use of technology and data mining, top names would be culled out without an I-T officer needing to go anywhere. They can just send SMS," he said.
"I urge everyone to come to mainstream and contribute to nation building and help the poor," he said. "Whoever wants to come into mainstream, he can do that and I believe it will make India clean and like the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the economy will be cleansed," Modi said. Responding to questions raised by the opposition whether black money would be curtailed because of demonetization, he hit out at Congress, saying it had done nothing to fight this menace.
In this regard, he cited the Supreme Court order of March 2014 which said "since 1947, nobody in last 65 years thought of bringing back black money stashed in foreign bank accounts. The government has failed in its role for 65 years. You have failed in your duty, therefore we order setting up of SIT. Three years have passed you have done nothing."
The Prime Minister said the first thing that his government did after assuming office in May 2014 was forming SIT on black money as directed by SC. He said the Real Estate bill was passed, considering the fact that much of black money is parked in this sector. Jewellery market was also streamlined, he said. "I received letters from MPs from all across political spectrum appealing for doing away of PAN requirement for Rs 2 lakh jewellery. But we did not go back," he asserted.
Modi agreeed with Congress Leader Mallikarjun Kharge that much of black money is parked in real estate and benami properties besides jewellery but questioned why his party did nothing all these years.
"Kharge ji said that black money is there in jewellery, property, etc. I agree with you. But this House wants to know when did this realisation dawn on you? Because nobody can deny that corruption starts with cash, and result is jewellery or property or gold.
"Tell us, in 1988, when Rajiv Gandhi was PM, who had got a bigger mandate than even Nehru. From Panchayat to Parliament, everything was under your control....The Benami Law was enacted in 1988 but it was never notified... What is the reason that for 26 years, the law was not notified? Had it been notified at that time, 26 years back, it would have been a step towards cleaning the country and situation would have been better," Modi told the Congress leader who had attacked him yesterday. Posing further questions to Congress, he said, "Who were those people who felt, after making the law, that it is better to suppress this law? You will have to answer this." He asserted that this government has taken steps against black money holders.
"I want to tell the countrymen, how much big you might have become, but you will have to return the right of the poor. I am not going to back out on this fight for the poor, I will keep fighting for the poor," Modi said.
He said there is no dearth of resources for the poor but certain sections of people have looted and the poor suffered. "This is not a new issue. This issue had come up earlier also. Yashwantrao Chavan (then minister) had approached Indira Gandhi (with a proposal to eradicate black money). But she told him 'don't you have to contest elections'? You were scared of elections. But we are not worried about elections.
We are worried about the country and hence we took this decision," the Prime Minister said. "No one can deny that cash has become an integral part of our lifestyle. But unless you inflict a deep injury, you cannot come out from that situation," he said. With regard to opposition's criticism over demonetization, an issue that led to washout of the last Winter session, Modi said from day one, the government has been saying that it is ready for a discussion on it. "But you felt, if discussion is held now, Modi will take advantage of it. So instead of discussion, you chose to give TV bytes. Therefore a discussion could not take place. It is good that this time you have shown interest," he told the opposition benches.