Finance minister Arun Jaitley
Finance minister Arun Jaitley

New Delhi: Finance minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday ruled out a reversal of the demonetisation of Rs500 and Rs1,000 notes as the opposition tried to corner the government in and outside Parliament.

The government also reduced the amount of old currency that can be exchanged at bank branches by more than half to Rs2,000 per person from Rs4,500 to allow more people to swap notes and to check misuse of the facility. This will be applicable starting Friday.

To deter people from exchanging demonetized notes multiple times, the government has already asked banks to apply indelible ink on the fingers of customers swapping currency.

“There is no question of rolling back the currency replacement drive as demanded by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Trinamool Congress. This is a clear decision of the government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to cleanse the country’s economy and political system. We will remain firm in our decision,” Jaitley told news agency ANI.

He also ruled out the formation of a joint parliamentary committee to investigate allegations that news of the demonetisation had been selectively leaked in advance.

Both Houses of Parliament were adjourned on the second day of the winter session amid demands by opposition parties for a vote on the demonetisation exercise after a debate and response from the prime minister.

Jaitley said the government was ready for a debate, but the opposition was running away from one.

Trinamool Congress and AAP leaders and activists took to the streets, demanding that the government roll back the demonetization of high-value notes.

Opposition parties have faulted the government for not being prepared to deal with the aftermath of the move, which has seen serpentine queues form outside bank branches and ATMs. They said the banks haven’t been provided enough currency to replace the notes that ceased to be legal tender.

Jaitley retorted that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had provided enough new currency to the 4,000 currency chests around the country and reiterated that there was no shortage of notes.

“There was a problem of misuse of the Rs4,500 currency exchange. We got a very large number of complaints that people are engaged and hired in order to convert money and that was responsible for the big queues,” Jaitley said, justifying the reduction in the value of currency that could be exchanged.

The finance minister said banks are recalibrating 22,500 ATMs per day and all the nearly 200,000 ATMs will start dispensing the new Rs2,000 notes soon.

Economic affairs secretary Shaktikanta Das also denied that a shortage of cash was the reason for reducing the currency exchange amount.

“The total cash amount of exchanging old notes against new notes has been reduced to enable a larger number of people to reach bank counters,” he said.

RBI, in a one-line statement, sought to assuage fears of any shortage in cash supply. “There is sufficient supply of notes consequent upon increased production which started nearly two months ago. Members of the public are requested not to panic or hoard currency notes,” it said.

The government, meanwhile, allowed people to draw up to Rs2.5 lakh for weddings from the bank account of one family member with a self-declaration that the facility will not be used by any other family member.

The government allowed farmers to withdraw up to Rs25,000 per week to help them buy seeds and fertilizers. Farmers can withdraw Rs25,000 after selling their produce at local markets when the amount is deposited into their bank account. The time limit for payment of crop insurance premium has also been extended by 15 days.