New Delhi: A Supreme Court bench has once again ignited the hope among many people for opening up of a window to exchange demonetised currency for those who could not do so by December 30, 2016 or by March 31 due to changes in conditions for depositing the scrapped notes in the banks.
The Supreme Court has asked the government and the RBI to consider granting a window to those who have not been able to exchange scrapped Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes for genuine reasons, saying people should not lose their own money for no fault of theirs.
"You (Centre) cannot be allowed to deprive a person of his money if he couldn't deposit due to some genuine problems. Consider giving a window to a genuine problem. What if someone is terminally ill and couldn't deposit the money," a bench of Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justice D Y Chandrachud asked yesterday.
"There can be a situation where a person has lost his/her money for no fault. Suppose a person was in jail during the period... We want to know as to why you chose to bar such persons," the court said.
Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar, appearing for the Centre, initially said the policy was not individual-centric and later sought time to take instruction on the issue as to whether an opportunity, on a case-to-case basis, can be given to those who could not deposit the money due to valid reasons.
“Give me two weeks, I will take instructions from the government," he said.
During a brief hearing, the bench said if there is a person who has "valid reasons" for not depositing the notes, then he should be given an opportunity to explain as to why he failed to deposit the money and "he must be given a window".
It then gave illustrations like that of a person who could be ill or in jail during the period when the window was provided to exchange scrapped notes and asked the government whether such people can be forced to lose their money without any fault of their own.
"You cannot take the money away" if a person says that it was his failing that he could not deposit the money and justify that "under no circumstance could he have deposited them", the apex court said.
The bench was hearing a batch of petitions, including one filed by Sudha Mishra seeking a direction to authorities to allow her to deposit demonetised notes as she could not do so during the period specified by the Centre and the RBI.
The Centre has already filed an affidavit saying that the government was not going to open any window now to deposit the old notes.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on November 8 last year announced that Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes would no longer be a legal tender from the next day.
The government had assured the people that demonetised currency notes could be exchanged at banks, post offices and RBI branches till December 30, 2016. If people were unable to deposit them by that day, they could do so till March 31, 2017 at RBI branches after complying with certain formalities.
Earlier, the apex court on March 6 had issued notices to the Centre and RBI on the petitions alleging tweaking of rules on exchanging demonetised currency notes.
The Prime Minister's address to the nation on the evening of November 8 last year on demonetisation and subsequent notifications of the federal bank that the devalued currency notes can be exchanged at RBI offices even up to March 31, 2017 were valid assurances which stood breached by the ordinance, the counsel for petitioner Sudha Mishra had said.
One of the pleas has also referred to the Specified Bank Notes Cessation of Liabilities Ordinance and said the government had breached the assurance.
However, the Ordinance, issued on December 30 last, had specified that only those who were abroad or armed forces personnel posted in remote areas or others who could give valid reasons for not being able to deposit the cancelled notes at banks, could deposit the demonetised currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes till March 31.
The deadline for the general public to deposit the scrapped currency in bank or post office accounts expired on December 30, 2016.
With PTI Inputs