The headlines in many newspapers talked about the return of the cash crunch, with many ATMs running dry. The media, it seems, is more obsessed with what happens to the cash economy than before. The crunch could be related to the traditional cash demand spike in the last month of the financial year, which has not been met with adequate supplies. The cassandras, surprised by the lesser-than-expected drop in third quarter GDP, are hoping bad news may still pop up from an unexpected quarter.
They may be disappointed. For the early signals are that the worst of demonetisation (DeMo) is behind us.
Take just a few pointers:
In March, the Nikkei manufacturing PMI (purchasing managers’ index), an early warning signal on growth, was at a five-month peak of 52.5, up sharply from February’s 50.7. A reading above 50 is an indicator of expansion, and 52.5 is a bloody good reading.
Car sales also zoomed past the three million mark, growing 9.11 per cent in March. This is the highest growth rate registered in the last six years. Not exactly a sign of consumers fretting about cash post-DeMo.
Two-wheelers, which are more sensitive to cash shortages, are back in positive territory – if only marginally.
Individual digital transactions, which had begun falling with remonetisation, show that the digital habit will need reinforcement, but overall electronic payments have never been higher. In March, till the 29th, total electronic payments – from RTGS to NEFT, IMPS, cards, e-wallets and UPI – topped Rs 105 lakh crore. It’s the highest ever, topping even December 2016, when DeMo was forcing a change.
The message that cash should not be relied upon for doing business is probably going through.
And, government’s tax collections for 2016-17 have exceeded even the upwardly revised estimates of Rs 16.97 lakh crore at Rs 17.10 lakh crore. Direct taxes grew 14.2 per cent and indirect taxes by 22 per cent, but personal taxes (net of refunds) grew 21 per cent. This is significant. If people are paying more personal taxes, it means one of two things: more people are complying; or DeMo has forced them to disclose more incomes than before, and they are paying up to avoid calls from the taxman.
That should count as DeMo’s success. We are starting fiscal 2017-18 with the worst behind us, not ahead. Unless we are talking about the next disruption – the goods and services tax (GST).
The final word on the net benefits of DeMo may still be months away, but the numbers are already telling their own story.
Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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