Experiencing the demonetisation: From India’s oil city Degboi with love!
- R. Chandan
The repercussions of cancelling the legal tender of Rs 500/1000 have been felt massively in India’s oil city – Degboi. Dull faces put up by daily wage labourers are tell tale, while conversation with them in the dawn narrates more worrisome stories of painful heat being experienced by them.
“Humare paas paisha hain (We have money), lekin paisha nahi hain (but, at the same time we do not have money) Aisa hogaya humara stiti (this is our plight)” says Jamaluddin, a contract labourer at tea plantation at Digboi, Tinsukia district of Assam.
Living literally with Rs 120 in his pocket since 18th November, he has deposited his past week’s salary in a Kirana store (small retail store). The contractor pays him Rs 200 per day, which is, 1400 per week. But after November 8th announcement, contractor paid him Rs 1000 per week promising the rest after the situation eases.
A current twist is that the contractor has only Rs 2000 notes. In this week two people were together paid Rs 2000 and haplessly left to fend for the change. These two did a futile exercise of visiting over 20 shops in a hope of collecting change for high denominator note.
Realizing that they cannot fetch change, both deposited 2000 Rs in the Kirana store. “Kirana store mein account khola, lekin aur whatcha bhi hiya hain, uskeliye kya karu” says Rajendra Manji, a middle aged man, who now have to buy from the same Kirana store regardless of price and quality until his 1000 deposit gets over.
Nearing 3rd week after demonetisation announced, contractor has already given a red signal indicating cash dry and promised to pay together along with next week’s salary.
“Modi ji ne bola thoda dikkat hogi (Modiji during the announcement of demonetisation said, it will cause little inconvenience). hum Socha Sirf chaar paanch din ka baat hain (We thought it’s a matter of 4 to 5 days). per pandra din hogaya, aisa kitna din chalega? ( but 15 days have been crossed), now how many days?) Ab to Malik ka hi barosa (all have placed trust on contractors), they lamented.
Jamaluddin and Rajender have a bank account but don’t know to write, hence never attempted to take money from bank.
Prabin and Nabin Manji with joint family of 10 including parents, wife and children too are undergoing similar experience.
While Prabin works as a farm labourer, Nabin works at Asia’s oldest oil refinery in Digboi. They say 4 attempts to stand in the bank queues went in vain. Prabin has savings of Rs 40000 at home but all in demonetised 1000 notes.
Unlike other who reach the bank 2 hours in advance to make it to the counter, Prabin has to give his early morning hours to the farm. “Agar bank queue mein tame washte kiya to, is seajon ka fasal nhi milega. Ghar mein saamaan bhi khatam ho raha hain. Shaam tak kuch paise ka intzaam karna padega”.
His brother Nabin Manji works at the oil refinery as a contract worker on daily wages. His contractor had already not paid one week’s salary and he is wary of the situation of the coming week. With young children and an infant to be taken care of, this family stares at dry pockets for at least next week now.
“Bada log ka kya hain, chaljayega humare bachhonko sarkaar khilayega kya?” says angry Nabin, “Paishonke liye hahaakaar hogaya hain”.
As author of this report landed in Digboi for 2 days of work and Rs 500 in hand, he thought it would be easy in small towns to get cash in ATMs as there won’t be long queues. But he was proved wrong.
Estimating the total 2.5 day expenses in Digboi including food, stay, travel to Rs 6000, He had to draw 2000 in 3 different places.
1st day waited for almost an hour at United Bank ATM in Digboi town. At around 11 am, when this author was just behind 3 ATM users, the security at the cash machine placed the ‘NO CASH’ board. His first attempt went in vain
Meanwhile the hotel he stayed did not accept card but just added my food bills without demanding money each time he ordered food.
Evening the hotel attender Hiranjoti came running to the author, shouting SBI mein paisa mil raha hain sir (SBM ATM is dispensing cash) and helped him with attender’s bike to reach ATM which was 7 kms away. Again as luck did not prevail after a wait of 45 minutes, the watchman said bohut Kam cash dala tha, khatam hogya (very less money had put into the machine, so its empty fast)
The author had to buy a pen drive for a critical data collection work. He went to a small computer accessories shop. The shop owner Anand readily gave him account number for an online transfer and helped with not spending the cash in hand.
He overheard him speaking on phone regarding going to bank to exchange cash. This immediately triggered an idea. Author explained his cash situation to Anand hesitantly and asked for a favour to help with cash to which Anand said “ghabrayiye mat, Aap hamara mehmaan hain, hum aapka help karega lekin kal sirf do hazaar rupai Dega”. So thought something is better than nothing readily agreed to his offer. But still he was in need of Rs 4000.
On the second day morning in 3rd attempt at an ATM he was lucky enough to get Rs 2000 as he had information that cash was being put in the ATM at 10.30 am. When the author went near the ATM, there were already 40 people in the queue. He was still not sure of Rs 2000 cash from Anand as he had not received a confirmation call. So after reaching hotel in the evening, requested the hotel owner for his bank account details. The hotel owner was not willing as he also had valid reason of cash shortage in his drawer.
Meanwhile author got a call from Anand, the computer shop owner to collect Rs 2000 which gave him some relief and decided to shamelessly ask Aanad for another help. Collected 2000 after transferring the amount and asked for the same help second time to which he politely denied explaining his condition.
It was 23rd morning and author had to leave to the airport which is located 74 kms from Digboi and when all efforts to get 6000 failed, the hotel owner agreed for an online transfer.
So until author visited a small town like Digboi, he also had imagined the inconvenience to be small and would to last only for a few days.
As author was not much affected initially with options like Ola money, Paytm , Zomato, it was jolt to him after hearing first hand experiences and inconvenience that himself experienced. “I can no more assume that Since I am not affected, world is also not affected”.
What answer will Modi Sarkaar give to Prabin, Nabin, Rajender, Jamaluddin lakhs of people like them? When will this huge inconvenience going to end or will they get used to this?
Are Jamaluddin, Prabin and Nabin blackmoney holders? When will all the ATMs in small towns like Digboi start disbursing cash? 500s. When will all the banks in small towns like Digboi cater on time without long forcing people to stand in long queues like those of Prabin and Nabin?
Will Modi government ever be able to force people in small towns and tiny villages to move to plastic money without setting right basic education system that will enable the last man to understand and operate things like ATM cards, mobile apps?. Will Modi government ever be able to get a valuable feedback on demonetisation from these kind of small town people for their so called app survey? Experience with truth says, NO.
(Author is a member of AAP Karnataka.)