Narendra Modi government’s bold move to demonetize high denomination notes in circulation and replacing them with new ones has by and large been welcomed by the people. With the exception of opposition parties, who are criticising it, trying hard to find flaws with the scheme. This is, of course, more out of political expediency, and probably pique at having suddenly lost a lot of political capital – both literally and figuratively. For the past three days, common people have been bearing the brunt of the decision with stoic acceptance, expressing their willingness to undergo temporary personal inconveniences for the greater good of fighting the menace of black money. Serpentine queues in front of banks and ATM machines have been the primary image on television screens, as banks are stretched to seams trying to service the surge.
One of the key requirements for such a momentous move to succeed was the need for absolute secrecy, which the government was successful in maintaining right up to the time the Prime Minister announced the decision on television. Yet the flip side of this was that it precluded prior planning and preparations of any kind. That’s the reason the banking system is struggling to keep up with the demands now. As per the Finance Minister, over two lakh ATM machines across the country need to be re-calibrated to be able to dispense the bigger sized new notes, a process requiring up to 3 weeks. Meanwhile they will continue to dispense Rs 100 notes.
Since three weeks is too long a period for people to accept continued inconveniences, and the banks are simply not geared to be able to dispense the cash through cheque payments to meet the demand, government needs to look at alternatives to smoothen things out. If it fails to do that, the entire groundswell of support will soon turn into anger against the government. Given the scale of the problem and the urgency to solve it at the soonest, the government should look at pressing the armed forces into service to help them out.
Help is required by the banking system for transportation of cash, its disbursal, collection and exchange of old currency notes, recalibration of ATM machines, and to ensure adequate security to this entire process. With its vast manpower and logistic resources, and its presence in the remotest corners of the country, the armed forces are ideally suited to step in and help out for these. Their transport and manpower resources can be used to augment those of the cash transportation agencies being employed by the banks. This will ensure a faster turnaround time for cash reaching the branches before it runs out. Clerical assistance can be provided by trained personnel to collect and disburse cash at branches, with the bank’s own staff being used in supervisory role, thereby keeping the banks open 24X7.
The army can also help in reducing the time required for re-calibrating the ATM machines by augmenting the manpower available to do the needful. This can be done by army technicians being quickly being taught how to carry out the calibration. If possible, this could be done over video conferencing, thus making it possible for a faster execution even in remote places where the army is already present. If this is not technically feasible, the army can provide logistic support to the bank’s technicians to help them complete this task faster themselves, specially in remote areas.
Security will be inherent in all of the above operations due to involvement of armed forces personnel, whether it is transportation of cash or calibration of machines.
If the army resources can be used to build a bridge for an international event organised by a spiritual, there is no reason why the government cannot consider using them for alleviating the crisis that this sudden move has caused. Especially since this will benefit millions of ordinary citizens who’s hardships are likely to multiply if such drastic steps are not taken.
Postscript- After this post I recieved objections from some readers that this is not the role of armed forces. I would like to refer to Para 1(b) of Chapter VII, Manual of Military Law. As per this, army can be requisitioned in aid to civil authority for maintenance of essential services.