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Cash with public at record high of Rs 30.88 lakh crore



Six years after the government announced demonetisation on November 8, 2016, currency with the public has hit a new high. With cash remaining the preferred mode of payment, currency with public for the fortnight ended October 21, 2022 stood at a record high of Rs 30.88 lakh crore — up 72 per cent or Rs 12.91 lakh crore from Rs 17.97 lakh crore on November 4, 2016.

Cash with the public has shot up by 239 per cent from Rs 9.11 lakh crore recorded on November 25, 2016, two weeks after Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes were withdrawn from the system. According to the RBI data, in the fortnight ended October 21, 2020, the currency with the public rose by Rs 25,585 crore — on the eve of the Diwali. It rose by 9.3 per cent, or Rs 2.63 lakh crore, on a year-on-year basis.

After Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes were withdrawn from the system in November 2016, currency with the public, which stood at Rs 17.97 lakh crore on November 4, 2016, declined to Rs 7.8 lakh crore in January 2017 soon after demonetisation.

Currency with the public is arrived at after deducting cash with banks from total currency in circulation (CIC). Currency in circulation refers to cash or currency within a country that is physically used to conduct transactions between consumers and businesses. Cash in the system has been steadily rising, even though the government and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) pushed for a ‘less cash society’, digitisation of payments and slapped restrictions on the use of cash in various transactions. The jump was primarily driven by a rush for cash by the public in 2020 as the government announced a stringent lockdown to tackle the spread of the Covid pandemic. As nations around the world announced lockdowns in February, people began accumulating cash to meet their grocery and other essential needs. The sudden withdrawal of notes in November 2016 had roiled the economy, with demand falling, businesses facing a crisis and gross domestic product (GDP) growth declining nearly 1.5 per cent. Many small units were hit hard and shut shutters after the note ban. It also created a liquidity shortage.

The rise in currency in circulation in absolute numbers is not the reflection of reality. ‘What needs to be taken into account is the currency to GDP ratio, which had come down after demonetisation,’ said a banker.

The cash in circulation to GDP ratio has been 10-12 per cent till about FY20. CIC in India increased to a high of 14.4 per cent of GDP in 2020-21 from 10.7 per cent of GDP in 2017-18. However, post the covid-19 pandemic and due to the growth of cash in the ecosystem, CIC to GDP is expected to inch up further. The Reserve Bank’s own view of CIC suggests that there is little or no correlation between CIC and digital payment penetrations and that CIC will grow in line with nominal GDP.

Although digital payments have been growing gradually in recent years, both in value and volume terms across countries, data suggests that during the same time currency in circulation to GDP ratio has increased in consonance with the overall economic growth, according to an RBI study on digital payments.

During the festival season, the cash demand remains high as a large number of merchants still depend on cash payments for end-to-end transactions. Cash remains a major mode of transaction with about 15 crore people still not having a bank account. Moreover, 90 per cent of e-commerce transactions use cash as a mode of payment in tier four cities compared to 50 per cent in tier one cities.

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