The Prime Minister asked for 50 days, but it took Kannankottai 300 days to recover from the blow.
Last year, when New Indian Express visited this village 70 km from Chennai in the weeks after cash was sucked out of the market, the poorer families were dipping into the fives and tens tucked away to buy half a plate of boiled rice and a packet of formula milk. There were daily forlorn trips to the nearest ATMs, 10 km away at Madharpakkam and Palavakkam.
A year on, the two ATMs only periodically cough up cash. “We get money if we’re lucky,” says D Srinivasan, a farmer. The banks are a bit better, but even they required a wait of two hours until two months ago.
Kannankottai is home to around 1000 families, most of them dependent on farming. Around 200 families own land, over 400 depend on labour to earn a living. Demonetisation came as a big blow to the village. It came in the wake of three hard years: land acquisition for the Thervoy Kandigai-Kannankottai reservoir project in 2014, floods in 2015, and drought in 2016. Going into demonetisation week in November 2016, most of the farmers had left their fields fallow. The few who sowed reaped a bitter harvest in January 2017 as there was no cash in the hands of buyers to procure their crop. “We paid brokers to find buyers for our paddy,” says farmer Gaggiah D. “I received my payment of `20,000 over a four-month period. No one had any money.”
The train of consequences rumbled well into the pre-monsoon — the northeast one — months of 2017. Sowing this season is still going on, when it should have ended a month ago.
“Each farmer is sowing as and when he gets money; some are sowing even today. If it rains heavily, these late-sown crops will not be able to survive,” explained farmer Vijayakumar. The farmers of Kannankottai have their fingers crossed this year. Having cash in hand is more important now and here more than elsewhere. Around 800 acres of its patta farmland has been marked for acquisition for the Thervoy Kandigai-Kannankottai reservoir project. Farmers who stand to lose their land are not eligible for bank loans, not even for drought relief payments. Cash in hand is what they have to play with.
It’s been a bitter year for Kannankottai. A lesson has been learnt and it is not what the dreamers of digital India might want to hear. “Our cash is better off locked away in our own homes. What if something like this happens again,” said P S Madhan Kumar, a farmer.
Housewife Sangamma’s lesson, having lost her jewels to floods and droughts, is that she better resume tucking away the tens in kitchen containers. Hadn’t they saved her from the deluge of demonetization?