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April 2017: Earliest India will get its cash back : PM Modi
Sahil Kini
April 2017: Earliest India will get its cash back : PM Modi
PHOTO : TIWN

We are days away from Prime Minister Narendra Modis 50-day deadline to end the worst effects of the scrapping of 86 per cent - by value - of Indias currency. In the chest-thumping, hand-wringing and controversy that has ensued since the announcement on November 8, 2016, there has been an absence of facts on the question of re-monetising India.

An extrapolation of 2016 Reserve Bank of India (RBI) data on the capacity of Indian printing presses and currency distribution indicates that, at current rates, the Prime Minister's deadline will not be met. Getting adequate money to banks and ATMs nationwide will depend on how many bank notes the government wants to put back into circulation.

If the government wants to introduce Rs 9 lakh crore ($135 billion) - or 35 per cent less money than it pulled out - it will take up to May 2017, and if it wants to reintroduce the entire Rs 14 lakh crore ($210 billion) that it withdrew, that could take up to August 2017.

The crux of the problem is change, specifically the Rs 500 note, which India's presses cannot, currently, print in adequate numbers.

Here are the facts:

The RBI has four presses at Dewas (Madhya Pradesh), Nashik (Maharashtra), Salboni (West Bengal) and Mysuru (Karnataka).

* The printing capacity of these presses is roughly 2,670 crore (26.7 billion) notes a year, according to the RBI's 2016 annual report (page 90). Or roughly 7.4 crore (74 million) notes a day

* If the presses worked three shifts a day instead of two, their daily production capacity could be raised to 11.1 crore (111 million) notes a day

* However, less than half of the machines in the presses have the ability to print the security features required for high-value notes (Rs 500 and above)

* This means that even if all the machines that print high-value notes in all four presses printed only Rs 500 rupee notes 24 hours a day, we would at best be able to print 5.56 crore (55.6 million) Rs 500 notes every day

* This translates to about Rs. 2,778 crore ($418 million) in value printed every day in Rs 500 notes

Before the announcement of demonetisation, the government had already arranged for the printing of 200 crore (2 billion) Rs 2,000 notes, or roughly about Rs 4 lakh crore ($60 billion) in value. So, these were the first set of notes to be circulated. This is why there are so many pink notes in circulation.

Let's explore the time to disburse in the two scenarios we mentioned:

* Scenario 1: Rs 9 lakh crore (or roughly two-thirds the total Rs 14 lakh crore that was demonetised) needs to be returned to the system

* Scenario 2: Rs 14 lakh crore (full amount) needs to be recirculated

For this amount to be liquid, a key condition needs to be met: Rs 2,000 notes can, at most, account for half the total amount to be circulated. The logic: If we do not have enough change, then the Rs 2,000 note will always be hard to "break" into smaller denominations, which is the situation nationwide today.

The other half needs to be available in lower-denomination notes. The total value of Rs 100, Rs 50, Rs 20, and Rs 10 notes is Rs 2.19 lakh crore ($33 billion), according to the RBI's annual report.

If we put this in a math equation where t is the total value of Rs 2,000 notes and f is the total value of Rs 500 notes, we end up with this equation:

total value of 2,000s (t)=total value of 500s (f)+total value of 100s and below

or

t=f+Rs 2.19 lakh crore

This means the requirement of Rs 500 notes is as follows:

* In Scenario 1 (Rs 9 lakh crore disbursal):
t+f = Rs 9 lakh crore Solving for f, the value of Rs 500 notes needed is 681 crore (6.81 billion) notes X Rs 500 = Rs 3.405 lakh crore

* In Scenario 2 (Rs 14 lakh crore disbursal):
t+f = Rs 14 lakh crore Solving for f, the value of Rs 500 notes needed is 1,181 crore (11.81 billion) notes X Rs 500 = Rs 5.905 lakh crore

As on November 30, 2016, less than 10 crore (100 million) Rs 500 notes were printed and ready (or two days worth of printing), according to an RBI source, quoted in Mint.

We arrive at the crux of the problem: India needs to print at least 681 crore (6.81 billion) Rs 500 notes. In Scenario 2, the Rs 500 requirement is for 1,181 crore (11.81 billion) notes. However, the peak printing capacity of the presses is 5.56 crore (55.6 million) notes a day-or 0.8% of what it should be.

At this rate, we will take anywhere between 122 days and 212 days to print enough Rs 500 notes. Given the fact that the RBI started printing Rs 500 notes in earnest after November 30, 2016, printing all the required 500s will be completed only on March 10, 2017 (Scenario 1), or July 8, 2017 (Scenario 2).

Taking into account the time taken for cash transportation and the speed at which banks can push out the money, calculations indicate that complete disbursal of Rs 9 lakh crore can happen in early April 2017.

In other words: India awaits some "April showers" but a full "monsoon" will have to wait until July.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's interview excerpts :

"When I went for the first time as an MP to the Central Hall, and it was the first time I was seeing the Central Hall. I had not been there before. So I had then said that becoming the Prime Minister was not about the designation of the office but it was about the responsibilities and work of being a PM. I had also said that my government would be committed to the poor.

I was completely new in the job. Delhi was new for me. The Delhi environment was new to me. The work of the government of India was also new for me. But despite that, in such a short time, the pace at which the country has moved forward, and it's not on one subject. You can pick up any aspect of the government's functioning, and if you make a comparison with the past governments, then you will realize that no issue has been ignored.

There has been an effort to bring in something new in every area. There is an effort to bring in change in every area. One big challenge was that I was not experienced about this place, I had not even been an MP. The office was new, the questions were also new. B

But when I look at the second biggest challenge, we should remember those days when the country was engulfed in disappointment. The everyday news was about whether there would be any electricity production after seven days, whether coal would be supplied or not. This was the situation then. The entire system was engulfed in disappointment. The big challenge was to inject new trust into the system and create confidence among the citizens. It is very difficult to evaluate this from the outside but I have gone through it.

But today I can say with a lot of satisfaction that now there is no trace of any disappointment. The intention to do something is visible. And it's not in words but in actual achievement. I had said that within a given timeframe, we will open bank accounts for the poor. For something that had not been done for 60 years, setting a timeframe for it was in itself a risk. But because of that a trust was created in the system that it was something doable.

So that's the process I started for awakening the confidence. And today you can see that in every sector, the changed circumstances can be seen. While evaluating the performance of this government, never forget that you will have to make that evaluation in comparison with the 10 years of the previous government. Only then will you know where we were and where we are now. We should not be talking about what we are aiming for. For now you will have to assess the present in comparison with the immediate past and in that you will find a bright future."

(In arrangement with IndiaSpend.org, a data-driven, non-profit, public interest journalism platform. Sahil Kini, a B. Tech from IIT Madras, is a Principal at Aspada, a venture capital firm that supports entrepreneurs building businesses for India's underserved markets. The views expressed are those of IndiaSpend.)

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