RBI’s Autonomy Compromised? Urjit Patel To Answer MPs Today

Urjit Patel, the chief of the Reserve Bank of India, will meet today with a parliamentary committee to answer questions on the central bank’s role in clearing and executing the abrupt November decision to ban 500- and 1,000-rupee notes.

Governor Patel takes questions today from parliament’s Standing Committee on Finance which is led by Veerappa Moily of the Congress. On Friday, he will meet with another committee, headed by KV Thomas of the Congress, who had controversially announced that if needed, he would summon Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well to answer questions. BJP members of the committee objected to this pronouncement and the panel over-ruled Mr Thomas.

The RBI has been criticized for allowing its autonomy to be compromised by failing to carry out necessary checks ahead of banning the notes, which created a massive cash shortage and forced people across the country into long lines at banks. ATMs had not been calibrated to dispense the new, bigger-sized notes that were introduced; the new bills also remain in shorty supply. Through the demonetization drive, rules for cash allowances for people were changed frequently. The RBI has still not declared how much of the 15.44 lakh crores in banned notes has been returned to banks (some reports estimate it’s as high as 97%).

In advance of Governor Patel meeting with the different committees, the RBI sent a note to them listing some details of the demonetization drive that was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 8. The written explanation says that the government “advised” the central bank to cancel high-denomination notes on November 7, that the board of the RBI cleared this the next day, and hours after that, the PM made his televised address declaring that the notes would be illegal a few hours later.

“The RBI governor will be asked every question pertaining to demonetisation, including autonomy of the central bank,” said a committee member who was not named to news agency IANS.

Governor Patel will also be asked whether the decision to demonetize high-value notes was legal, and whether the sudden push for a cashless economy is feasible in a country where more than 90 per cent transactions are done in cash.

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