HOW BHARAT COPES: By raiding the piggy bank
SUBANIKHERA: Early morning, November 9. All preparations were done. Cards had been distributed, and the guests were arriving. Tara Devi (64) was busy supervising last-minute arrangements for the wedding of her only daughter the next day. The pre-wedding rituals had already started at her residence in Subanikhera village on the outskirts of Lucknow. The ladies were singing marriage ditties as the bride was getting dressed. No one had watched TV the night before when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that 500 and 1000 rupee bills would be history from midnight. When the news finally dawned, there was a frenzied scramble as Tara Devi and her relatives rushed to the bank to exchange their money, which had turned illegal overnight.
However, the rush at the bank and the restrictions on withdrawals ensured Tara Devi returned empty-handed. Postponement was the only option. The next day at the bank was no different; she waited for hours in queue and came back no richer.
Given the confusion, she could not fix a new date for the wedding. “Imagine how difficult it was for me. I had made all the arrangements but now nothing is certain. I am all alone. How will I do it again?” Tears well up in Tara Devi’s eyes.
The cash crunch in causing havoc in rural UP. With solitary banks catering to clusters of up to 12 villages, the villagers are finding it hard to cope. Queues, protests and disappointments have become routine as banks run out of cash in a few hours.
“On a normal day, people throng the bank in our village to withdraw their pensions and other benefits from the state government. Now, people are streaming in from the surrounding villages to exchange their notes,” said Nandu Sharma of Paharpur village in Lucknow district. Bank officials blame it on the government for failing to strengthen the banking network in rural areas.
Narrating the plight of small farmers, Mohan Yadav says the government should not have embarked on this adventure during the sowing season. “We do not have money to buy seeds, fertilisers, etc. Our rabi crop is yet to take off,” he says.
University student Santosh Kumar has a different tale of woe. “Since this currency thing, I leave home in the morning to go to my ATM, stand in the queue for a few hours and return home empty-handed. I am missing classes daily,” he says.
The problem is compounded in rural areas as cooperative banks, the lifeline of villagers, are not authorised by RBI to disburse cash or even exchange old notes for new. In some pockets, the udhaar and barter economy is back in vogue with people bailing each other out in this hour of crisis. Marriages are being solemnised, houses are being built, all on good faith and trust. With little cash in circulation, vegetable vendors, fruit sellers, and grocery merchants have started selling on credit, based on nothing but trust.
Fifteen days ago, Surya Prakash, an accountant, took Rs 60,000 to start the construction of his new home, and deposited it in the bank. Now he does not have cash in hand to buy materials. But he has found a way out by opting for ‘udhaar’ purchase. “Now everything is based on udhaar,” says Prakash, a resident of Itaunja. “I have some Rs 100 and 50 bills, which I pay to labourers and masons. The rest of the things will be paid for later.”
The age-old barter system has made a comeback. “In most villages, grains are being exchanged for vegetables,” says Saroj of Haasemau village.
Because come what may, the show must go on.