With Rs 9.9 lakh crore back, Centre’s estimates may go for a toss


NEW DELHI: With over three weeks to go for the deadline to deposit invalidated 500 and 1,000 rupee notes, deposits in the scrapped currency continue to swell, straining the Centre’s estimate of how much of the illegal tender might not come back into the system.

Government data shows deposits in two high denomination notes by Saturday evening had totalled Rs 9.85 lakh crore. The imposing figure, shared by sources on condition of anonymity, challenges the Centre’s estimate that demonetisation might flush out about Rs 3 lakh crore in black money that may never come back. With more cash sure to flow in before December 30 when the window closes, this figure might shrink.

Sources said the government expected at least 10% of the Rs 14.6 lakh crore to disappear for good: a prospect which would have reduced the RBI’s liability and it could have passed on the money thus saved as dividend to the government.

Sources feel the endless stream of deposits illustrate that those with illegal hordes have been able to find ways to convert “black” into deposits.

PM Narendra Modi referred to the widespread “renting” of Jan Dhan accounts. Preliminary investigation has thrown up the curious pattern of a massive number of deposits of Rs 49,000, the threshold to avoid furnishing PAN number needed for deposits of Rs 50,000 and above.

The Centre is aware of laundering on “industrial scale”, and has responded by tweaking regulations — the biggest example being the changes in the Income Tax Act to provide for stiff penalty and tax on undeclared amounts now surfacing in accounts.

Restrictions on withdrawals from Jan Dhan accounts is another example of what an official called improvisation triggered by the ingenuity of money launderers. “This is a typical cat-and-mouse game; regulatory dialectics, if you will, which is playing out, with the Centre trying to keep ahead of those trying to game the system,” said an official who referred to numerous instances where employers, including educational institutions and hospitals, put money into accounts of employees and have taken post-dated cheques as security.

Sources said a substantial amount of black money will still be flushed out and this, coupled with what is expected to be realised by higher tax and penalty on undeclared cash, will help the Centre justify demonetisation.

In fact, the Centre has already been shifting the focus from the destruction of black money to the amount the “corrupt” have been forced to part with. Modi, who in his speeches in the immediate wake of demonetisation talked about notes flowing in Ganga, shifted his rhetorical gears at his Moradabad rally on Saturday when he spoke about the “endless flow” of money.

Of course, his emphasis was on the “transfer of wealth” from the “corrupt” to the poor which came with his controversial advice to those with Jan Dhan accounts to hold on to what has been deposited in their accounts: a pitch that cast him as the architect of expropriation of a kind usually approved by Marxists.