The India International Trade Fair saw a spike in visitors on Saturday as it opened for the public, but the currency ban’s effect was evident with fewer footfall compared to last year.
On the first weekend since the fair began on Monday, the turnout was 75,000 till 5pm, said India Trade Promotion Organization (ITPO) officials. The figure would have crossed 100,000 by 7.30pm, when the entry closes, officials estimated.
Last year, on weekends it was between 1.2 lakh and 1.5 lakh, they said.
With old notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 no longer being usable and long queues at ATMs across the city, visitors mostly depended on debit and credit cards and e-wallets.
Earlier, the government assured that the lack of usable cash would not affect shoppers as they planned to install extra ATMs and pay-by-card facilities at the fair. At least 15 ATMs were installed at the venue this year compared to seven in 2015.
Long queues were seen outside each of the ATMs, forcing customers to spend a lot of time withdrawing cash. “I had no change except a new note of R2000, two R100 notes and one debit card. I tried to buy a khadi kurta for my father. It cost R 800. When I gave the R2000 note to the vendor, he asked me for change. I had none and so I returned without buying anything,” said 39-year-old J M Gupta, who came with his family.
A few stalls had no facility for card payments and e-wallets, leaving customers disappointed. Those who accepted cards said it did not help improve business either.
Others claimed desperate customers tried to give them old notes of R 500 and R 1000 and had to be turned down. “I had a fight with two customers today who tried to give me invalid currency notes. If they cannot get it exchanged, how can I? I told them to either pay in valid cash or leave,” said Azimal Mandal, a craftsman from Kolkata.
Mohammed Shakeer, a Bihar-based craftsman, said he has been putting up a stall of handcrafted silk sarees and shawls at the fair for two years. He made Rs 3 lakh profit last year. This year, he didn’t expect his sales to be as good.
“I participate in the fair to earn a living. It takes months of hard work to weave and embroider at least 50 sarees. Craftsman like me come to the fair to attract urban buyers. But due to demonetisation, the crowd is small and is buying few items,” Shakeer said.