Once the Law lays a deadline, neither the PM nor the RBI Governor can now exercise discretion or jurisdiction to extend it.
Central Government’s Top Law Officer, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, told Supreme Court that the “law will prevail over” Prime Minister Narendra Modi in deciding that people cannot be allowed to deposit the demonetised currency after December 30, 2016.
Rohatgi’s statement came in wake of contentions that Government had wronged the people by issuing an ordinance to restrict the deposit of demonetised currency till December 30, 2016, after Prime Minister had declared that old notes could be deposited till March 31, 2017.
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi submitted before the Apex Court Bench comprising of CJI J S Khehar, Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice Sanjay K Kaul, “There is no question of PM’s speech…if PM says March 31, 2017 but law says December 30, 2016, law will prevail over the PM. Let’s be clear about that first,”.
Bench enunciated that the “nation has to know” through an affidavit whether Government was willing to give another chance to the people to deposit old currency and if not, why.
As the Bench, referred repeatedly to the Prime Minister’s speech of November 8, Rohatgi sought to assert that after ordinance, position had changed in law and that all that had to be looked into now was effect of The Specified Bank Notes (Cessation of liabilities) Ordinance, 2016’.
Supreme Court was hearing a clutch of PILs, which questioned “propriety and reasonableness” of ordinance whereby RBI was absolved of its liability to accept the demonetised notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 despite a promise made by Prime Minister on November 8, 2016, in his “address to the nation” to announce demonetisation policy.
The petitioners have contended that they wanted to deposit old currency which they could not do owing to various concrete reasons while the deadline was abruptly preponed.
Apex Court Bench also pointed out that even in the ordinance, there was a provision empowering Government to open another window for allowing the people facing hardship to deposit old currency.
Supreme Court expounded that,“You cannot keep people in the lurch…why did you have this clause? You have discretion but you cannot exercise this discretion arbitrarily. Your arguments seems to suggest ‘I the final authority and I have decided I won’t do it’. That should not be the way.”
Apex Court further added that,“Government cannot close its minds arbitrarily. Parliament has given you this discretion so that you can use it reasonably. You can reject all cases but you should at least examine them. Other thing is that you issued this ordinance on December 30, 2016, which was the last day. People didn’t even get a notice that this window will close suddenly while everybody knew of PM’s speech and RBI circular that followed it, fixing a deadline of March 31, 2017.”
Supreme Court has asked Government and RBI to file their affidavits in two weeks and has thus fixed the matter for hearing on April 11,2017.
Bench,has however, clarified that it was not going to give any protection from prosecution to the petitioners if their holding old notes was eventually found to be illegal.