By Quaid Najmi
A public interest litigation -- probably holding the key to the historic demonetisation of November 8, 2016 -- filed by RTI activist Manoranjan Roy will finally come up for hearing at Bombay High Court in Mumbai on February 12.
The PIL was filed in 2015, on the basis of RTI replies received from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and other institutions, pertaining to large quantities of "missing or excess" Indian currency notes.
Roy said that as per RTI replies, from 2000 to 2011, RBI had received a certain number of currency notes from the three security printing presses in Nashik, Dewas and Mysuru.
The figures provided by the printing presses were: Rs 500 denomination -- 19,45,40,00,000 pieces were sent to RBI, but RBI said it had received only 18,98,46,84,000 pieces: A shortfall of 46,93,16,000 pieces or Rs 23,465 crore.
Similarly, the printing presses said they had sent Rs 1,000 denomination 4,44,13,00,000 pieces, but the RBI said it had received 4,45,30,00,000 pieces: An excess of 1,17,00,000 pieces or Rs 1,170 crore.
In another RTI data for 2000-2011, from the Bharatiya Reserve Bank Note Mudran Pvt. Ltd. said it had sent 13,35,60,00,000 pieces of Rs 500 denomination and 3,35,48,60,000 pieces of Rs 1,000 denomination, but, mysteriously, the RBI apparently never received these currency notes, nor did it disclose details of the same, said Roy.
"How such entirely misleading figures were given by three different and highly responsible government institutions, who are the culprits indulging in the misappropriation, where the staggering amounts of currency notes printed are actually going, are some of the questions that arise, and the answers may come out when my petition is finally heard," Roy said.
In the petition, Roy had named the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister and the Ministry of Home Affairs, as parties.
However, at one of the early hearings, then Additional Solicitor-General of India, Anil Singh, submitted an affidavit to Roy on January 27, 2016, asking him to delete the names of the PM, FM and MHA.
The affidavit was executed and signed by one Ashish Avinashi, identified as the (then) Deputy HR Manager of Security Printing Minting Corporation of India Ltd. (SPMCIL), Mumbai.
Strangely, this affidavit was not tendered before the Bombay High Court when a division bench comprising Justice V.M. Kanade and Justice Revati Mohite-Dere was hearing the matter, he said.
"The court also deleted the three names of PM, FM and MHA without referring to the affidavit and issued notices to the other parties concerned," Roy contended.
Undeterred, he filed another RTI query seeking details of the affidavit's signatory from the SPMCIL and a shocking truth emerged.
"The signatory, Ashish Avinashi, had no authority to sign such an affidavit, since a person from the HR department was not the competent person for this purpose," Roy said.
Roy's lawyer, Shashikant Chaudhari, said the case went to a bench of Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Prakash Naik on March 29, 2016, with subsequent dates of April 11, 2016, and then listed as a fresh matter on June 17, 2016.
On April 11, 2016, the RBI's lawyer Nikhil Chandani argued that Roy's petition was "frivolous" and there was no need to file a reply to it.
Justice Oka and Justice Naik accepted the argument and asked Roy to restrict himself strictly to the prayers, failing which the court would impose heavy costs, and adjourned it to June 24, 2016.
That day, the court sought to know "where is the petitioner" when Chaudhari tried to argue the matter on behalf of Roy, and said it had gone through the entire petition minutely and felt it was "a frivolous PIL".
Chaudhari sought time till July 1, 2016, which was granted with specific instructions to the petitioner to withdraw the PIL or face heavy costs.
However, Chaudhari said, at the last minute, the matter was transferred to another bench and, subsequently, Justice V.M. Kanade and Justice Swapna S. Joshi disposed it off on August 23, 2016, "without proper scrutiny".
On September 22, 2016, Roy filed a Review Petition (No. 5/2016) and the matter remained alive, and now this review plea will come up for hearing next Monday, Chaudhari said.
Meanwhile, barely within 75 days of the petition getting disposed off (August 23, 2016), Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced demonetisation of the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 denominations, on November 8, 2016, the lawyer said.
The government move was made on various grounds like unearthing black money and fighting terrorism, but the entire matter pertaining to misappropriation of large quantities of Indian currency notes, as available under RTI, was sidelined, Roy claimed.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)