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Reality check: 50 days on, demonetisation still a mixed bag across India

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had in public rallies sought time till December 30 to fix the pain being experienced across the country following his demonetisation move.

black money crackdown Updated: Dec 31, 2016 11:09 IST
HT Correspondents
A man shows Rs 50 notes at  Luxbagan of Satjelia in Sunderbans, West Bengal.
A man shows Rs 50 notes at Luxbagan of Satjelia in Sunderbans, West Bengal.(Subhendu Ghosh/HT Photo)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had in public rallies sought time till December 30 to fix the pain being experienced across the country following his demonetisation move.

“If you find anything wrong with my intentions or actions, hang me in public. I promise you I will give you the India which you desired. If someone faces problem, I also feel the pain. I understand their problem but this is only for 50 days,” Modi had said in rallies in Gujarat and Goa, referring to the long queues at ATMs and the acute scarcity of cash in cities and towns.

With the deadline set by the PM having expired, HT revisited persons and places we had serialised earlier — from Budgam in Kashmir to Guruvayoor in Kerala — to do a reality check on whether Modi has delivered on his pledge to ease the situation for his countrymen. The feedback was mixed:

Satleja, Sunderbans

A mother of two, Pampa Mistry is much happier now. For the most part of November and early December, she had been worried about her husband, Ramesh, who returned late in the night despite the danger posed by lurking Royal Bengal tigers.

As a ‘business correspondent’ of the State Bank of India and the only source of currency for residents of the remote island with no bank branches or ATMs, Ramesh had to put in long hours in the wake of the November 8 demonetisation announcement.

As long queues formed outside his office and tempers rose over non-availability of cash, Ramesh struggled and had to stay back in office till late.

Read | 50 days of demonetisation: ATM queues shorter but ripples to remain in January

Things have got better now and he is returning home before sunset, much to the delight of his wife.

“Earlier I used to get only Rs 20,000 a day from the SBI Gosaba branch for distribution among the villagers, that too mostly in denominations of Rs 2,000. But now I get Rs 50,000 every day and all in denominations of Rs 50. The villagers are happy and I am relieved,” Ramesh says.“I can go home early now,” he adds.

Yavatmal, Maharashtra

Kalawati Bandurkar, the widow of a farmer who committed suicide and found herself in the headlines after Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi visited her, is still in distress.

“Today some guests are coming to my house with a marriage proposal for my youngest daughter, Sonia, but I can’t offer them anything more than a cup of tea. There is no money at home,” she says.

Kalawati has been struggling since November 8 to lay her hands on cash. Following Gandhi’s visit, an NGO extended financial help and opened a fixed deposit in her name at a bank. Kalawati is entitled to Rs 14,000 as monthly interest, but has been finding it difficult to withdraw money from the nearest bank some 25 km away.

She visited the Central Bank of India in Maregaon two days ago and had to return with just Rs 6,000 after a four-hour wait.

Read | 1000 raids in 50 days: Taxman monitoring deposits of Rs 2 lakh and above

Residents of the region notorious for farm distress and farmer suicides have similar complaints, alleging that the situation at banks has not improved.

Shrihari Dhoke from Chanoda says non-availability of cash is derailing his plans for Rabi crop despite a good Kharif harvest. “As every link in this chain is almost entirely settled in cash, the absence of currency in the system has affected the overall post-harvest activity,” he pointed out.

Lanura, Kashmir

Unlike the rest of the country, the Valley never witnessed queues outside ATMs. Locals attributed the phenomenon to months of unrest that left people impoverished. No money meant no queues, they said in the days following the demonetisation announcement.

Though declared the state’s first cashless village, Lanura, about 25km from Srinagar, epitomises the challenges faced by the administration, post-demonetisation.

Read | Note ban not enough: Corruption in India is like water, it finds a way

“Lanura is cashless in the sense it is facility-less. People are poor and earn very little, there is not even one ATM here, there is electricity for only a few hours in a day, and infrastructure is in shambles,” said Aashiq Hussain, a government employee. “And do you think we can do e-transactions when the mobile internet network is so weak in the village?” he added.

Consequently, the local grocer, chemist, tailor and gas cylinder seller are all using cash in their daily transactions.

Khokh, Punjab

Nek Singh, who sells seeds and saplings — from potatoes to tomatoes, chillies and onions —has not had a change of heart.

Few weeks ago, the owner of the sprawling nursery had been critical of ‘note-bandi’. Weeks later, he still insists demonetisation is ruinous for farmers.

“Even now there is no money in the banks…We have to wait for days to get meagre cash, which is not sufficient to meet expenses for our family and agricultural needs,” he said.

He pointed out that vegetable growers have suffered immensely. Potato prices have crashed to Rs 2.5 a kilogram, carrot to Rs 2 and cauliflower to just Rs 1 a kilogram. Traders have no money and farmers are begging before commission agents in mandis to buy their produce at whatever price and commission agents are fleecing them, he pointed out.

Punjab farmer Nek Singh complains that vegetable growers like him have been hit by demonetisation as the value of their yield has fallen. (Bharat Bhushan/HT Photo)

Singh has had a bumper potato crop but that brings him no cheer. “The potatoes that I have grown over 40 acres will accrue me a loss of at least Rs 8 lakh. Is there a plan with the government to compensate the farmers?” he asked angrily.

His potatoes are ripe and ready for harvest but he has been unable to muster courage to start extracting the vegetables. Other potato farmers have lost Rs 20,000 rupees per acre. “Imagine what my loss would be,” he muttered.

Guruvayoor, Kerala

Even the six-odd ATMs in the immediate vicinity of the famous Guruvayoor Sri Krishna temple with a bank balance of Rs 1,500 crore and 500 kg gold reserves had run out of cash following demonetisation.

But now, things have improved and the machines are again spewing out cash.

Read | Farmers hit as vegetable prices crash down after demonetisation

The makers of equally famous ‘Guruvayoor papad’ are also upbeat. Business is picking up once again, though one manufacturer said sales were still down. “As against the normal sale of 1,000 kg a month, I now sell 500 kg,” he said.

Though the papad maker has survived, two of his staff were not as lucky. They were laid off and are currently unemployed.

Bastar, Chhattisgarh

Though dirt poor, the tribals of the region dreaded the demonetisation effect. Everyone in the region expected a fresh wave of extortion by Maoists seeking to replenish their coffers depleted by the banning of high-value currency.

The fear still persists though the extortion hasn’t begun yet. “They know very well there is no money with the common villagers just now because villagers are not getting enough cash from selling their paddy crop. Hence they are waiting for tendupatta (tendu leaves) season,” pointed out Sunil Baghel.

Read | Demonetisation could take away 400,000 jobs;e-com to be worst hit

“In tendupatta season, the villagers will get cash from the contractors and then I believe they (Maoists) will ask for Rs 100 per villager. If anyone resists, he will be punished,” he added.

A vegetable market in Bastar wears a deserted look. Villagers fear a fresh wave of extortion by Maoists seeking to replenish their coffers. (HT Photo)

Another villager pointed to the hardship he suffered: a relative died and Rs 1,000 were needed for his last rites. Relatives spent Rs 200 to visit the bank thrice this week to get the amount. “I hope the dead man has finally found peace,” he said.

(Inputs by Joydeep Thakur in West Bengal, Pradip Kumar Maitra in Maharashtra, Gurpreet Singh Nibber in Punjab, Ramesh Babu in Kerala, Ritesh Mishra in Chhattisgarh and Abhishek Saha in J&K)