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Six indicators which will determine whether demonetization has been a success or not
Demonetization is the hottest topic nowadays. Where ever you go, its being discussed. The entire print media, electronic media and social media is thronged with news/reports/articles on the same. There is a new twist in the story almost daily.

While surveys point out that people are happy with the decision, in the same breath they admit that it is causing inconvenience to the public. BJP has done well in the by-polls and municipal elections in Maharashtra and Punjab, and claims this as a validation of its note ban move. While it may be too premature to claim that the plan has been successful, it wouldn't be wrong to say that people are willing to give time to PM Modi till December 30 and wait to see the after effects.

As we are already halfway through the move announced on November 8, by December 30, the following socio-economic and political indicators would ultimately decide whether the currency ban move has been successful or not.

1. Financial inclusion

One of the aims of the currency ban is to encourage people to use less cash and popularize online transactions / digital wallets etc. Although over 25 crore Jan Dhan accounts were opened, many people in India still don't have a bank account. The surgical strike on black money means that people will now desist from keeping cash at home. Nobody knows when this strike could be repeated.

Against this backdrop, we have seen a surge in deposits in Jan Dhan accounts as well as new accounts being opened. Cash crunch ensures that majority of the amount deposited is retained by banks. More people and more money became part of the formal economy. This would also help increase tax base as many small businessmen/traders from the informal economy will join the mainstream and start paying taxes.

How many new accounts have opened? What is the increase in cashless transactions through online banking, debit / credit cards and e-wallets after December 30? Would this scheme lead to increase in people filing tax returns and ultimately boost tax revenues? All these questions need to be examined.

2. Black money

The success of the note ban is inversely proportional to the total amount of 500/1,000 rupee notes which are deposited in the banking system. Approximately 15 lakh crore worth such notes were in circulation before the ban and the more they come back into the system, the lesser will be the extent of black money in cash in the economy.

Government of India (GoI) in an affidavit before the Supreme Court during a hearing on note ban submitted that it expects Rs 10 lakh crore to come back. As per reports, 8.44 lakh crore rupee worth such notes have already been deposited (some reports even put the number at 11 lakh crore). If all the currency of 500/1,000 rupee notes in circulation comes back then it could be a major embarrassment for the government. It could mean that there is no black money in cash and public were unnecessarily inconvenienced.

The announcement of the Income Disclosure Scheme has complicated matters. Higher deposits of 500/1,000 rupee notes in the aggregate closer to the 15 lakh crore number could also mean that a lot of people have availed of the scheme. A clear segregation of the two – normal return of such notes due to ban and under IDS – will have to be done to study the impact.

3. Fiscal deficit

One of the reasons which has gone unnoticed is that note ban was also done with a view to achieve the fiscal deficit targets for FY17. As of H1 (April-September, 2016), in six months alone, we have attained 84 per cent of our full year fiscal deficit target. The corresponding number in April-September, 2015 was 68 per cent. While 52 per cent of budgeted expenditure was expended up to September, 2016, only 42 per cent of budgeted tax receipts were actually received.

With no other option available to Arun Jaitley but to increase excise duty on fuel (like in past years) to manage fiscal deficit, the demonetization plan was envisaged. The government believed that approx. Rs 4-5 lakh crore of notes won't be returned, resulting in a gain for RBI, which could then be up-streamed as dividends. This dividend income would help manage the fiscal deficit position. Along with income tax/penalties on IDS amount, the government also expects to plug the loophole.

Would we be able to contain deficit within budgeted estimates? If yes, well and good. If no, by how much? Will this negatively impact our credit ratings? All this needs to be seen.

4. GDP growth

India is currently the fastest growing economy in the world ahead of China. The note ban and cash crunch due to non-availability of new 500/2,000 rupee notes means that private consumption expenditure in months of November-December will be impacted.

There is a consensus amongst economists that GDP growth will decline. Most agencies/economists put the new FY17 growth between 6.5-7.0 per cent range. Ambit Capital has forecasted GDP to halve to 3.5 per cent while ex-PM Manmohan Singh has estimated it would fall up to 200 basis points (more in 5.5 per cent zone). Jaggi, in one of the articles on Swarajya has advocated that GDP growth could also surprisingly improve.

While these are (guess) estimates, any significant reduction in GDP growth would not be good for the economy and would negate the gains with respect to black money due to note ban.

5. Interest Rates

As banks got flushed with liquidity, they wasted no time in decreasing the interest rates on Fixed Deposits by 15-25 basis points. The rates are below 7 per cent for 1 year FD with banks now. As it happens usually after a rate cut, banks have not reduced their lending rates.

The current excuse is that RBI has demanded that all excess liquidity be parked with it as CRR. However, this is temporary and ultimately banks will have to reduce lending rates or else the benefits of the scheme will be negated.

While fall in deposit rates will hit senior citizens who depend upon interest income of savings, fall in lending rates is good for the industry and is expected to boost corporate profitability, create jobs, increase GDP growth etc. There will be social pressure on banks to be judicious in lending so that the loans don't turn into NPAs later.

6. Uttar Pradesh election results

UP elections are slated to be held during February – March, 2017. By that time, the short term impact would be known like, how much black money was there in circulation in cash? What was the amount declared under IDS? What is the impact on GDP growth and fiscal deficit? What is the impact on sowing of crops?

The elections would be fought with demonetization as one of the main issues as surgical strikes has lost its sheen as an election issue after the recent loss of lives on our side (Nagrota). Opposition would play up note ban shortcomings while BJP would pitch its successes. If BJP wins UP, it will be a clear ratification of its note ban policy.

To sum up, while BJP and its supporters have hailed this plan as successful in breaking the back of black money, the opposition parties are calling it as a sham exercise which is only inconveniencing people. The truth is somewhere in between as of now. Not only the short term effects but also the long term impact needs to be considered to see whether the big gamble Modi has taken has been appreciated by the people and meets its targets.

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