That the six ATMs are mostly out of currency isn’t surprising, given the cash crunch sweeping the country following last month’s demonetisation of high-value notes. Yet, the irony is not lost since the money-vending machines are located just outside what is thought to be one of the country’s cash-rich temples.
Guruvayoor Sri Krishna temple in the southern state of Kerala has deposits to the tune of Rs 1,500 crores in banks, besides gold reserves of 500 kg and 53 captive elephants. But like the rest of the country, demonetisation has come to bite it as well and the ATMs in its immediate vicinity are mostly running dry.
“It seems even the gods can’t help,” said an agitated devotee as he stormed out of an ATM that failed to spew out much-needed cash. Amid fraying tempers, a bank official pleaded helplessness. “These machines run out of cash every two or three hours and we don’t have the mechanism to fill them up so frequently.”
“There is a 40 per cent dip in our revenue. Every month, our hundi collection was Rs 6 to 7 crores. Last month it has gone down to Rs 4 crores.”
In normal times, Guruvayoor alongside three other big temples of the state – Sabarimala, Padmanabha Swamy and shrines in Malabar – are flush with funds. Compared to the 42 Kerala public sector undertakings that together earn an annual average revenue of Rs 200 crores, the four net Rs 1,000 crores every year.
But since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetisation announcement on November 8, there has been a decline in both the number of devotees and earnings. “There is a 40 per cent dip in our revenue. Every month, our hundi collection was Rs 6 to 7 crores. Last month it has gone down to Rs 4 crores,” said Peethambara Kurup, the chairman of the Guruvayoor temple board.
A former Congress MP, Kurup is critical of the demonetisation drive. “Modi wanted to become an Indira Gandhi overnight, but he is reduced to Tughlaq now,” he said, referring to the ex-prime minister’s radical bank nationalisation move and an analogy of the 14th century Delhi sultanate emperor Mohd bin Tughlaq.
Doubts about demonetisation are beginning to swirl among many others in the neighbourhood of the temple.
NK Gopi, 55, is engaged in the manufacture of the famous ‘Guruvayoor papad’ known for its flaky crispness. But his business is appearing to be more brittle by the day as the continuing cash crunch dries up sales.
“More and more shopkeepers are refusing to keep my papad packets, saying old stocks still remain on their shelves. When people have no money, papad is the last thing on their mind,” Gopi said. As against his normal daily sale of 100 kg, he now manages to sell 30 kgs a day.
“This is not a well thought out plan,” Gopi said about the chaos in the aftermath of demonetisation.
His frustration is shared by EV Komalvally and her four colleagues at the nearby Thaikkad Service Cooperative Bank. The cooperative secretary said desperation has set in among people and their inability to lay hands on money has resulted in a gloom that she has not seen ever.
A customer who had deposited his retirement benefits with the bank came knocking last week, begging to be allowed to withdraw money. “He urgently needed Rs 5 lakhs for his daughter’s wedding,” she said. Another threatened suicide if turned back. “We are speechless.”
Known as God’s Own Country, many in Kerala are not limiting themselves only to prayers. Jagan, 45, a grocer, was forced to apply for a card swiping machine to save his business that has slumped 40 percent last month.
“With a card swiping machine, I hope I can contain the damage,” he said. He also wants Modi to intervene immediately to check the mounting liquidity woes.
This is the concluding part of our series which explored the effect of demonetisation on rural India. The earlier parts focussed on Sunderbans, Bastar, Jammu & Kashmir, Vidarbha and Patiala.