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Cash crunch: How Bengalis’ love for fish bailed them out

kolkata Updated: Nov 15, 2016 14:02 IST
Demonetization

Fish vendors came to the rescue of lakhs of people by giving them the much-needed change after the Modi government banned large denominations like Rs 500 and Rs 1,000. (Subhendu Ghosh/ HT Photo)

It is the quintessential Bengali’s love for fish and a relationship with the vendors for years which bailed him/her out during the ongoing cash crunch after the Modi government banned large denominations like Rs 500 and Rs 1,000.

As an alternative to long queues in ATMs and banks, many people are making a beeline for the fish vendors.

The reason for this, explain vendors, is that fish is highly perishable, more so than vegetables. So, it was the fish vendors who came to the rescue of lakhs of people in the state, first by giving out the much needed change and when that got depleted, credit, as the cash crunch entered its sixth day on Monday.

This, at a time when people queued up at banks and ATMs for hours to get new notes after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a ban on Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes on November 8 evening. The only condition that the vendors placed was that a person had to buy fish worth a little more that Rs 100.

Be it the markets in and around Kolkata or those in towns such as Siliguri, Kharagpur, Burdwan, West Midnapore, Bolpur, the scene remained the same.

“We are giving fish consignments on credit to retailers and will continue to do so for as many days as we can. Ninety five per cent of our customers are permanent ones. We cannot deny them. Likewise, in retail the same thing has happened,” said Syed Anwar Maqsood, the secretary of West Bengal Fish importers Association and a wholesaler in Howrah.

Most markets in the state wore a deserted look the after the announcement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi about demonetization of Rs 500 and 1000 currency notes. (Subhendu Ghosh/HT Photo)

“Apart from the relationship between customers and fish vendors which has existed for years, one must remember that we are talking about fish and not iron. Fish is most perishable and will rot. Therefore, one has to keep the supply chain on,” said Maqsood.

The morning after the PM’s announcement when people went to the market they were pleasantly surprised to find that the fish vendors were accepting Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. This was true in most markets such as Manicktolla Bazaar, Narkeldanga Bazaar, Gariahat Market, Chatubabu-Latubabur Bazaar, Hatibagan market and so on.

“I was surprised and happy when my fish vendor accepted a Rs 1,000 note. The trend has continued till today (Monday) when the cash crunch reached its sixth day. I had to buy a little more than usual. They were willing to change the big notes if I bought fish worth Rs 300 and above. It is difficult to find change in banks and ATMs. My fish vendor, who I know for years, saved me a lot of trouble,” said Somnath Samantha, a businessman from Belgachia who regularly visits Ashu Babur Bazar in Paikpara.

The scenario was almost the same in Kharagpur’s Goalbazar, a 150-km drive from Kolkata.

Normally, people buy fish after vegetables. But now it is the other way around. People are buying vegetables after getting their big notes changed from the fish vendor. (Reuters)

“We are accepting the Rs 500 notes from those who are buying fish worth more than Rs 100. We are not changing the currency note if you do not buy fish,” said Sumitra Barman, a fish seller.

“But we are not accepting the Rs 2,000 note right now because it is not possible for us to give you the refund as the people are not taking Rs 500 notes,” Mayarani Barman, another fish seller from Kharagpur, said.

Normally, people buy fish after vegetables. But now it is the other way around. People are buying vegetables after getting their big notes changed from the fish vendor.

Debmalya Bagchi, a resident of Subhash Pally in Kharagpur who was short of small notes, rushed to the market to buy fish without wasting time on Sunday.

“I bought two fishes from two sellers. I did not need that much for my family. Since I needed small currency notes, I gave them Rs 500 notes and got back the remaining amount after buying fish from two sellers,” said Bagchi.

“I have to stand in the queue for a long time to withdraw money from the ATM. The fish sellers are a messiah for me in this situated,” Bagchi added.