Kali Mahato, a small time trader of West Midnapore district, is a worried man. One of his relatives is supposed to get married next week and some payments have to be made urgently, but the family can’t withdraw money from the local bank. Even producing marriage invitation cards won’t work.
Mahato’s situation is by no means unique, but more ironical than most. His house is a 3-minute drive from the Reserve Bank of India’s Salboni mint that is racing against time to print most of the high value currency in the country.
With a police station, a block health centre, the block development office and as many as three banks -- United Bank of India, UCO bank and Vidyasagar Co-operative bank -- Salboni is a developed village. The Sayedpur branch of State Bank of India and Mandalkupi branch of Punjab National Bank are also not far away from this spot about 150 kms to the west of Kolkata.
Since the morning of November 9, the queues in front of these banks are perhaps equal before any other in the state, but there is an element of irony in the air of Salboni unmatched anywhere in the country.
“It’s like standing in the midst of a big feast and yet going hungry. Most of the Rs 2,000 and Rs 500 notes are being printed in our village. But our queues are no less than anywhere else in the country,” said Mahato.
“We look at the mint wistfully from a distance and stare at the vehicles that leave with the cash to feed the nation. It is the time of cultivate potato, one of the principal crops of the area. But we are suffering as we don’t have cash,” said Gopal Lodha, a farmer of the village.
Salboni is not the only village in the vicinity. Residents of Sushnibera, Biridanga, Tyangrashole, Pachakua, Jharbhanga, Dhanshole, Dubrajpur villages all live close to the mint. Since November 9, as the queues lengthened in front of the banks, the villagers in this area began feeling equally miserable like Salboni residents.
The mint in Salboni that can print 16 billion pieces of notes per year was commissioned in the nineties when Bimal Jalan was the RBI governor. The mint is a property of Bharatiya Reserve Bank Note Mudran Private Limited which is a wholly owned subsidiary of RBI.
“It’s almost the feeling that one has if there is power cut in a particular house on a summer night while all the neighbours are sleeping peacefully under the fan, or ACs,” said Tapan Bishui, a businessman of Salboni.
“We feel especially helpless when the bank employees are telling us that they don’t have enough cash to meet our demands,” said Sandip Sinha, a local.
“This is the time for harvesting aman paddy. But we don’t have cash to employ daily labourers. The suffering is the same as other parts of the country. The sense of irony come free with it,” remarked Bishui.