KOLKATA: The jury is still out on the streets of Kolkata over the impact of demonetisation on the hawkers, small traders and beggars, widely held to be worst affected, nearly four months after the surprise move.
Contrary to the Central government's claim that the recall of high-value notes will ultimately work in favour of the economically weak, day labourers in the city's Burrabazar area are not convinced.
Mohammad Irfan, 62, who works as a daily wage labourer in the Posta area, for one says, "Bade seth aaj bhi badi gaadiya kharid rahe hai, sari dikkat to nichle warg ko uthani padti hai (Those with money are still buying cars, it is the poor which has to wallow in despair)."
Irfan said that he used to earn Rs 250 to Rs 300 a day, but his earning came down to around Rs 100 as the clients were short of hard cash pay.
"I have six members in my family to feed and I don't even want to recall on how I spent the initial months after the demonetisation was rolled out," he said.
Ninety-year-old Kamala (name changed) sits at the same spot everyday at BBD bag, the central business district of the city, and begs for a living.
With an air of despondency in her voice, she said, "I had to throw away eight 500-rupee notes in the gutter out of fear. I had heard that Narendra Modi rose from a 'chaiwala' to become Prime Minister. He calls himself a 'messiah' of the poor but look what he has done! I am hoping Rahul Gandhi will come to power in the next elections."
Echoing similar sentiments, another beggar Utpal Das, a polio victim, said, "The condition was such that my family had to go without food. My daughter is five years old now and I can't even afford to have her admitted to a school."
"The move was disastrous as it brought sharp decline in my business. How can we expect a good business when there is no cash in the market," said a pen vendor in the Esplanade area of the city.
"Demonetisation or any other policy doesn't make my life any better. I have been poor all my life. So, I have stopped thinking of a better future. I think I will die like this," a locksmith said.
On the flip side, there were some who threw unstinted support to note recall, hoping that it would root out corruption and black money would be brought back to the country.
Ram Bhowmik, a resident of Uluberia, who has a road-side eatery, said, "Disparity between the poor and the rich has decreased. We are on the same page now. The corrupt will have to shell out black money and they will pay for all their misdeeds."
Sudip Dutta, a taxi driver by profession was in all praise of the prime minister saying, "Modi has done only good things in the country. There are no fake notes left in the market. We had to face difficulties initially, but things improved thereafter."
According to some hawkers, demonetisation did not have any effect on them since they don't have to deal with high-value notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000.
"If the move can eradicate corruption from society, why not then support the government?" Ramu, a tea-seller in the city's Keshtopur area, said.
Ramgopal, a staunch Modi supporter, said, "Not everyone can be like him. He is the best person to lead the country at the moment. He has my full support. Demonetisation may not show the results now, as pointed out by some, but it's good for the future. At least my children will live a better life."