The world looked like a bleak place on Wednesday as cash-strapped Kolkatans tried to find ways to make do with whatever little money they had in their wallets.
The government’s sudden withdrawal of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes from circulation, in a bid to flush out money hidden from the tax man, caused chaos.
Director Rajib, who is presently in north Bengal to shoot his upcoming film with Bonny Sengupta and Koushani Mukherjee, sounded flustered. “We reached Darjeeling on Wednesday. We have a 15-day outdoor schedule with an 80-member unit. Problem started on Tuesday night when we boarded the train. We had a tough time buying food, as restaurants are not accepting Rs 500 notes.”
“Since this is an outdoor shoot, we have hired locals and pay them daily wages. Now, how will we pay them? We have asked local shoot coordinators in Siliguri to arrange cash,” he added sounding distressed.
In the Bengali TV world, however, the situation wasn’t that desperate. A production controller who handles shooting of serials such as Bhootu and Potol Kumar Gaanwala, said, “Since we work in shifts, we prefer handing over cheques. So it’s not a grim situation yet.”
Thanks to the move, multiplexes are fast turning into card-only zones. “Earlier, we used to encourage using debit and credit cards to buy movie tickets, now we are insisting that customers use their cards. It will help both parties. Customers will have cash in hand and it will save us the headache of arranging change,” said Subhasis Ganguli, regional director (east), Inox.
Most city markets wore a deserted look on Wednesday. While most shops in the Gariahat market didn’t open, a trader, Iqbal, who has a shop in New Market and deals in zari borders, said, “I am in a fix. I can’t refuse customers. If someone hands over Rs 500 note, I will have to accept it. But where will I get such a huge supply of Rs 100 notes? It would have been better if the market had been closed today. Without liquid cash doing business is difficult.”
The picture wasn’t very different at the city’s eateries. While the more posh restaurants have the option of accepting debit and credit cards, it’s the smaller cash-only restaurants that are in a fix. “Business will definitely suffer since we only accept cash. The next few days will tell us how bad the situation will be. Even after the new currency is in circulation it will take time to stock up on change,” said Abhishek Sen, who works at Momo Plaza.
The owner of The Bikers Café, Manoj Rathi, says that he estimates a 25% reduction in footfall. “We have a 50-50 cash-card ratio. We will not be accepting Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes, so obviously the cash paying customer might not want to do away with whatever little cash they have in hand resulting in a reduction in footfall. Hopefully, things will improve by next week,” said Rathi.
Taxi drivers and bus conductors, too, are a worried lot. Sambhu Singh, who drives a taxi, said that on a normal day he generally ferries about five to eight customers by noon. On Wednesday, he had got only two. Conductors, meanwhile, continued to refuse to accept Rs 10 coins.
On a lighter vein, Pamela, a student, said that this move by Prime Minister Narendra Modi will definitely help her lose weight. “I am walking to save money. I generally take a rickshaw. Don’t want to use up all my Rs 10 notes. I also plan to skip lunch as I only have Rs 200 in my wallet. The net result will be weight loss,” she laughed.