Refusing the Centre's plea to stay proceedings filed in various high courts and lower courts opposing the government's demonetisation decision, the Supreme Court on Friday said: "We cannot stop and shut the courts for the aggrieved people" and warned that there "may be riots."
Representing the Centre, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi had asked the court to impose a stay on PILs filed in various courts in the country and urged the apex court to take up proceedings. "Parallel proceedings will create a lot of unnecessary confusion," he appealed to the court.
However, the bench, comprising CJI Thakur and justice Anil R Dave refused the Centre's plea submitted on Friday and said that the "cases in high courts will help us understand what are the issues being faced locally." But the bench said that it may consider the plea only to the extent of transferring the cases to Delhi.
Noting that problem is "serious and of magnitude", the bench said: "This is very serious. This will require great consideration. People have become frantic, people are affected... There may be riots."
"That is completely wrong. People are patiently standing in lines," disagreed Rohtagi, who then asserted: "The length of the lines is reducing by the day."
But Chief Justice Thakur retorted and said: "No. There is suffering. There is difficulty and you cannot dispute that." Chief Justice Thakur also asked the government if there is a deficiency of Rs 100 notes and whether the inconvenience to the public is due to a printing problem.
"The last time you said you are working out relief but you have reduced the withdrawal amount to 2,000. What's the problem? Is it printing problem?" Justice Thakur asked the government while referencing its decision announced earlier this week to reduce the Rs. 4,500 limit for the exchange of notes at banks to Rs. 2,000
"Not only printing... it has to be transported to lakhs of branches across the country and ATMs have to re-calibrated," answered Rohtagi.
The apex court also asked if there is "any deficiency in Rs. 100 notes? They have not been demonetised. Why are they not been made available at least?" To which the government, acknowledging a shortage of Rs. 100 notes, said: "Rs. 100 notes are not available. Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes were over 80 percent of the currency," Said Rohtagi.
On the question of what the government is doing to alleviate the suffering of the common man, Rohatgi referred to the latest directives that suggest cash will be made available on swiping cards at petrol stations with State Bank of India cards. He added that Rs. 2.5 lakh will be allowed for weddings and farmers will get Rs. 50,000.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who is appearing on behalf of one of the four PILs against the demonetisation that are being heard by the apex court, also questioned the government's preparedness.
He said about 23 lakh crore worth of notes has to be printed and 14 lakh crore worth currency was frozen as from November 8. Only about nine lakh crore currency is in circulation. Expressing the seriousness of the situation, Sibal asserted that 47 people have died after November 8 as an after-effect of the demonetisation.
"People with Mercedes can afford to swipe their cards at petrol bunks, not farmers…800 crore people in this country earn less than Rs. 10000 a month. That is not black money. A family walked 20 km from Bastar to an ICICI Bank branch," Sibal said.
The bench, which postponed the next hearing on the issue to November 25, asked both the Centre and Sibal to produce facts and figures that depict the ground realities and sufferings caused to the people due to the demonetisation.