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SC directs Centre, RBI to put on record relevant info on demonetisation

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Centre and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to place before it in a sealed cover the relevant records pertaining to the government’s 2016 decision to demonetise currency notes of Rs 1000 and Rs 500 denomination for its perusal.

Reserving its verdict on a batch of pleas challenging the Centre’s 2016 decision, a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Justice S A Nazeer heard the submissions from Attorney General R Venkataramani, RBI’s counsel, and the petitioners’ lawyers, including senior advocates P Chidambaram and Shyam Divan.

The top court directed the parties to file written submissions by December 10.

“Heard. Judgement reserved. Learned counsels of the Union of India and Reserve Bank of India are directed to produce the relevant records,” the bench, also comprising Justices B R Gavai, A S Bopanna, V Ramasubramanian, and B V Nagarathna, said.

Venkataramani submitted before the bench that he will submit relevant records in a sealed cover.

The top court was hearing a batch of 58 petitions challenging the demonetisation announced by the Centre on November 8, 2016.

At the outset, Divan, appearing for one of the petitioners, submitted before the bench that recommendation of the RBI’s Central Board was mandatory.

“Recommendation by the Central Board is a condition precedent. If no recommendation, power under this provision cannot be exercised,” he said.

Divan argued that excluding the huge class of people who left money in India was manifestly arbitrary and under-inclusive.

“This exclusion of genuine cases is arbitrary. The central government and RBI is wanting in its duty,” he said.

On the issue of judicial review by the court, Divan said judicial review is being disabled citing that economic policy cannot be examined.

“Administrative documents that ought to be disclosed and produced before the court at once, are being withheld,” he said.

Making his rejoinder submissions, the attorney general said after the notification was issued on November 8, 2016, the Parliament debated on it.

“First time I have seen a notification referred to by the Parliament. I did not say validating legislation, but that it validated the notification by looking at it, giving its approval,” the attorney general said.

The apex court had on Tuesday said that limited scope of a judicial review in economic policy matters does not mean that the court will fold its hands and sit back, observing that the manner in which a decision is taken by the government can always be examined.

Calling the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes deeply flawed , Chidambaram had argued that the Union government cannot on its own initiate any proposal relating to legal tender which can only be done on the recommendation of the RBI’s central board.

Resisting the apex court’s attempt to revisit the 2016 demonetisation exercise, the government had said the court cannot decide a matter when no tangible relief can be granted by way of “putting the clock back” and “unscrambling a scrambled egg.”

The RBI had earlier admitted in its submission that there were “temporary hardships” and that they too are an integral part of the nation-building process, but there was a mechanism by which problems that arose were solved.

The Centre recently told the top court in an affidavit that the demonetisation exercise was a “well-considered” decision and part of a larger strategy to combat the menace of fake money, terror financing, black money, and tax evasion.

Defending the exercise, the Centre had told the apex court that the step was taken after extensive consultations with the RBI and that advance preparations were made before the note ban was enforced.

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