On the night of 8th of November 2016, the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi announced the demonetization of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 bank notes with immediate effect. The reasons cited by the Indian Government for the surprising announcement were reduction of black money in the Indian economy, reducing the cash-flow in the system and cutting down the number of counterfeits.
The plans for demonetization had been made six to ten months prior to the public announcement. The secrecy maintained was such that even the Cabinet Ministers were briefed about the plan only on the night of announcement2. The RBI was told six months prior to boost printing of Rs. 50 and 100 notes in preparation. To ease digital payments and lessen burden on banks, the government rolled out the Bharat Interface for Money (BHIM) app for both Android and iOS devices later that year, based on the Unified Payments Interface (UPI). Restrictions on withdrawal limits were imposed to ensure availability of cash for everyone. Thus, the government had foreseen some of the possible issues and had planned measures to ensure a smooth process for all stakeholders.
One major achievement of the exercise has been a marked increase in the number of cashless transactions, with the number of PoS machines almost doubling from 15 lakhs to 29 lakhs from October 2016 to September 2017 according to RBI data. The number of credit cards also increased drastically to 23 crores from a mere 2.3 crore over the same period. The growth rate of digital transactions also shot up from 25-30 percent prior to demonetization to around 40-70 percent post demonetization4. PayTM, India’s largest mobile payments services provider enjoyed an increase in number of customers from 125 million in November 2016 to 285 million in November 20175. This data indicates that India has made a reasonably successful start in its move to a digital economy, with support from government initiatives and improved digital infrastructure.
The government also claimed to possess information on 37000 shell companies that helped hide black money after demonetization. Moreover, licenses of more than 1 lakh companies were canceled and data mining indicated suspect dealings in the books of more than 3 lakh companies6. Thus, as a direct fallout of the demonetization exercise, the government got leads to crack down on black money.
In India, 90% of the workforce is in the informal sector. Demonetization aimed at removing 86% of the total cash in circulation, and this was always going to have a huge impact on informal labor, who work without any job security and on daily wages. Taking out such a large amount of currency from the system would result in lesser business opportunities and therefore non-employment of daily wagers. Considering that all this was done just to wage a war against 6% of undeclared wealth (rest in kept in real estate, jewelry, etc.), it is hard to see how the government looked past these numbers7.
The original objective of demonetization was to weed out fake currency notes, reduce black money in circulation, and curb terrorism funding. Once the government realized that these problems were not actually being solved and that the policy was back-firing, they decided to change the initial objectives to transforming India to a cashless and digitized economy. This leads one to ponder if the government had done its research well enough.
According to EMIS Intelligence, the GDP decreased from 7.62% in 2016 Q3 to 5.59% in 2017 Q2. These figures indicate a decrease in growth of economy because of demonetization. This decrease can be attributed to various reasons. Small scale traders faced a huge loss in business due to non-availability of liquidity in the market. Many daily wage workers lost their jobs due to non-availability of cash in the market. The hits taken by the Industrial Index of Production and the decline in growth of manufacturing sector post demonetization hit the average daily wager hard. Given these repercussions, it is questionable whether demonetization came at the cost of the layman.
Given India’s population, implementation of such an exercise had to be impeccable. A good policy with bad implementation may have many negative effects, and thus, negate all the positives it aims at. Demonetization which had positive intentions behind its implementation turned out to be a nightmare for the common people of India. Three dozen people died within the first week of implementation8. There were reports of people dying due to standing in long snaking queues while others died because of non-availability of valid cash to avail services in hospitals and pharmacy shops9. Many people lost their valuable time standing in queues which affected their productivity in workplaces. Banks were also taken by surprise with the announcement of demonetization which affected their working for a long period. They were not equipped with enough manpower to support the logistics requirement for implementation of the policy. Existing ATM’s would also be needed to be recalibrated to accommodate the new ₹2000 note. This task itself took more than 3 weeks, further making things difficult for the general public10.
When it comes to decisions of such a large scale, pertaining to the economy of the nation, it is imperative to make the process smooth for the citizens. The lack of planning was evident when one looks at the lack of digital infrastructure, the delay in calibrating ATMs and the fact that banks were underprepared to handle such long queues. Irrespective of the nobility of the ends in sight, it does not justify the means undertaken to reach them. It is the responsibility of a good management to consider the consequences of their actions and policies. It is questionable if the Indian government accounted for these possibilities. Another learning from the execution of demonetization was the glaring lack of preparation on the government’s side. The entire process could have been so much smoother if both digital and physical infrastructure had been taken care of before deciding to execute. Moreover, the decision to act was taken by a handful of people with consequences on a country of a billion. It is unfathomable that such few people could take such a big decision involving so many stakeholders. Thus, more thought and preparation would have helped decide better on the need and implementation of the action. This would be the biggest takeaway for any manager analyzing the Indian demonetization episode of 2016.
1. Indian ‘shadow economy’ to shrink to 13.6 per cent of GDP by 2025: ACCA. (2017, July 2) Retrieved August 12, 2018, from http://indianexpress.com/article/business/economy/indian-shadow-economy-to-shrink-to-13-6-per-cent-of-gdp-by-2025-acca-4731993/
2. Roychoudhury, A. (2016, November 10). Demonetisation: In the works for 6 months, 10 people in the loop, including Raghuram Rajan. Business Standard India. Retrieved from https://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/demonetisation-in-the-works-for-6-months-10-people-in-the-loop-including-raghuram-rajan-116111000009_1.html
3. Banks should’ve been given more time to prepare for noteban: Ex-SBI chief Arundhati Bhattacharya - Times of India. (n.d.). Retrieved August 12, 2018, from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/banks-shouldve-been-given-more-time-to-prepare-for-noteban-ex-sbi-chief-arundhati-bhattacharya/articleshow/61249220.cms
4. Demonetisation in Figures: All You Wanted to Know - News18. (n.d.). Retrieved August 12, 2018, from https://www.news18.com/news/business/demonetisation-in-figures-all-you-wanted-to-know-1569907.html
5. How Paytm went big on Indian demonetization. (n.d.). Retrieved August 12, 2018, from https://www.euromoney.com/article/b15ts6qpxvj51d/how-paytm-went-big-on-indian-demonetization
6. One Lakh Firms De-Registered; 37,000 Shell Companies Identified: PM Modi. (n.d.). Retrieved August 12, 2018, from https://www.ndtv.com/business/one-lakh-firms-de-registered-37-000-shell-companies-identified-pm-modi-1719383
7. Management lessons from demonetisation: Consequences catastrophic when basics are forgotten - The Financial Express. (n.d.). Retrieved August 12, 2018, from
8. The ugly face of India’s demonetization: Dozens of deaths. (n.d.). Retrieved August 12, 2018, from
Demonetisation: 12 deaths reported so far as India queues up outside banks. (2016, November 14). Retrieved October 2, 2018, from10. Desk, I. (2016, November 12). Recalibration of ATMs will take up to three weeks, says Jaitley. The Hindu. Retrieved from