Almost all the 500 and 1,000 currency notes that were made illegal in November 2016 have returned to the banking system, the RBI said on Wednesday, prompting the Opposition to question the efficacy of demonetisation in curbing black money.

Banks received Rs 15.31 lakh crore or 99.3 per cent of the Rs 15.41 lakh crore worth Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes that were in circulation on November 8, 2016 — the day when the note ban was announced, according to the RBI.

This means that just Rs 10,720 crore of the junked currency notes did not return to the banking system. Initial estimates had pegged that around Rs 3 lakh crore worth demonetised notes would not return to the system as they might have been stashed away illegally to avoid tax.

The RBI, which has taken over two years to count the currency notes that were returned in the limited period window provided by the government to exchange or deposit the demonetised notes, said in its 2017-18 annual report that the exercise is finally over.

The government vehemently defended the note ban decision, which sucked out 86 per cent of the currency in circulation, saying the move was not intended to confiscate money but to bring it into formal channels and tax them.

“I think demonetisation has achieved its objective quite substantially,” Economic Affairs Secretary Subhash Chandra Garg told reporters in New Delhi.

On whether the objective of reducing black money was achieved, he said, “yes.”

Former Finance Minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram was quick to pounce on the data to attack the government saying every rupee barring a small sum has come back to the RBI.

“Remember who had said that Rs 3 lakh crore will not come back and that will be a gain for the government!?,” he tweeted.

He said he suspected that the bulk of the currency not returned may be lying in Nepal and Bhutan, where Indian currency is acceptable, and some that may have been lost or destroyed.

Stating that the country paid a huge price for demonetisation, he said, “Indian economy lost 1.5 per cent of GDP in terms of growth. That alone was a loss of Rs 2.25 lakh crore a year.”

“Over 100 lives were lost. 15 crore daily wage earners lost their livelihood for several weeks. Thousands of SME units were shut down. Lakhs of jobs were destroyed,” he said in another tweet.

After November 8, 2016, the government provided a limited period window to first exchange any cancelled currency notes in possession and then deposit them in bank accounts.

Also, the junked currency notes were allowed to be used for buying petrol and diesel at petrol pumps, paying for hospital and electricity bills as well as bus fares on state road transport buses, among others.

The currency notes returned is a combination of deposits made in banks and notes exchanged.

Post-demonetisation, RBI spent Rs 7,965 crore in 2016-17 on printing new Rs 500, Rs 2,000 and other denomination notes. The amount stood at Rs 4,912 crore in 2017-18, according to the annual report.

The central bank — whose accounting year runs from July to June — had spent Rs 3,421 crore on printing currency notes in 2015-16.

As a result of higher expenses in printing new currency notes, the RBI’s profit as well as annual dividend payment were impacted. The apex bank transferred Rs 30,659 crore as dividend to the government in 2016-17 and the amount was Rs 50,000 crore in 2017-18.

It had spent Rs 3,421 crore on printing currency notes in 2015-16.

Garg sought to justify the cost of printing saying it depends on the volume of currency to be printed.

The RBI said overall banknotes in circulation were Rs 18.03 lakh crore as on March 2018, a growth of 9.9 per cent over March 2016.

Post note ban, the value share of high denomination currencies — Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 — in overall currency composition was 80.6 per cent, lower than 86.4 per cent in the pre-demonetisation period. The figures indicate a 5.8 per cent increase in use of small denomination currency notes.

After the note ban, junked notes — called Specified Bank Notes (SBNs) — were allowed to be deposited in banks and unusual deposits came under the scrutiny of the I-T Department.

The “humongous task” of processing and verification of SBNs was successfully achieved, the RBI said.

The SBNs received were verified, counted and processed in the sophisticated high speed currency verification and processing system (CVPS) for accuracy and genuineness and then shredded, it added.

RBI said the processing of SBNs has been completed and that the “total SBNs returned from circulation is Rs 15,310.73 billion”.

The government replaced old Rs 500 notes with new ones, but no replacement for Rs 1,000 notes have been made. Instead, new Rs 2,000 note was introduced post note ban.