Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today led the opposition attack on government in Rajya Sabha over demonetisation, terming it as a "monumental management failure" which would lead to dip in GDP growth by at least 2 per cent.
Speaking during the debate on demonetisation which was briefly resumed as Prime Minister Narendra Modi was present in the House, Singh said he agreed with the objectives of the scheme to demonetise currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 as spelt out by the Prime Minister but he wished to highlight the problems that the common people and poor have been subjected to by the move.
"It is not my intention to pick holes what this side or other side does. But I sincerely hope that the PM even in this late hour will help find us practical and pragmatic ways to provide relief to the suffering of the people of this country," he said.
"These measures convinced me that the way the scheme has been implemented, it's a monumental management failure," the noted economist said, adding the decision will result in decline of GDP by 2 per cent, which was an "under-estimate and not an over-estimate".
Slamming the government move, Singh said, "in fact, it is a case of organised loot and legalised plunder."
The debate was taken up by suspending the Question Hour as both the opposition and the ruling side concurred as Modi Modi was present in the House. The Prime Minister had come to attend the Question Hour as Thursday is the day of questions listed against his name.
Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad urged Chairman Hamid Ansari and Leader of the House Arun Jaitley that the Question Hour should not be taken up and the demonetisation debate, which was initiated on November 16, should be resumed as Modi was present.
This was readily accepted by the government, with Jaitley saying the debate should start immediately and Modi will certainly participate in it.
Azad then said Singh would speak on the issue.
Singh, in his speech, said the common man and the poor have been in distress after the decision and hoped that the Prime Minister would find a practical and pragmatic decision to mitigate their sufferings.
He also disagreed with Modi's plea to wait for 50 days for the results of demonetisation to come about, saying no one knows about the final outcome of the decision.
"Well, 50 days is a short period, but for those who are poor and deprived sections of the community even 50 days of torture can bring about disastrous effect. And that's why about 60 to 65 people have lost their lives. Maybe more.
"What is more is, what has been done can weaken and erode our people's confidence in the currency system and in the banking system," the former Prime Minister said.
He said agriculture, unorganised sector and small industry have been hit hard by it and people were losing faith in the currency and banking system.
Some other Opposition leaders like TMC's Derek O'Brien and BSP chief Mayawati also took the government to task on the issue.
Singh, a noted economist himself, criticised the government for issuing instruction after instruction and modifying the rules every day on the conditions under which people can withdraw their own money.
"That reflects very poorly on the Prime Minister's Office, the Finance Minister's office and on the Reserve Bank of India. I am very sorry that the Reserve Bank has been exposed to this kind of criticism which I think is fully justified," the former Prime Minister said.
Referring to those saying that the move which was doing harm and creating distrust in the short run was good in the long run, Singh quoted John Maynard Keynes to say that "in the long run, all of us are dead".
Asking Modi to spell out the names of countries where people have deposited their money in banks but are not allowed to withdraw it, he said, "this alone I think is enough to condemn what has been done in the name of greater growth."
Participating in the debate, Naresh Agrawal (SP) said his party was against demonetisation and dubbed it as a "second emergency" that has brought about financial emergency in the country. Such decisions have been taken "only by dictators" and not by elected governments anywhere in the world.
Agrawal said no one has the power to implement such a decision without the consent and approval of both Houses of Parliament, as the Parliamentarians are the true public representatives of people of the country.
"Till it is discussed in the House, how this decision was taken...It is a very dangerous decision for the country and is not in national interest," he said, adding that the decision was taken only keeping in view the upcoming UP assembly polls.
The SP leader lamented that the decisions announced by the government have not been notified by the Reserve Bank of India which is yet to issue instructions to banks.
While welcoming the presence of the Prime Minister in the House saying it is good that government has shed its rigidity, he lamented that the Prime Minister was not aware of the ground realities where people were suffering largely on account of the scrapping of high value currency notes.
Agrawal recalled how even former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who enforced Emergency in the country, was informed at the time that the move has gone well with the public who support it. "But, we all have seen what happened in elections later," he said, adding that the move will bring the same fate to this government if elections are held now.
Taking a dig at the BJP over its promise of bringing back black money stashed abroad, he said "you should declare when you will bring back the money stashed abroad on foreign soil." Agrawal also asked the government to declare how much is the NPAs of banks in India in comparison to foreign banks.