As the Prime Minister’s deadline for demonetization difficulties comes to an end, New Indian Express reporters track back to locations where they assessed the situation in the first two weeks and check if there’s been an improvement.
Sometime last month, grocer Siddhu Chaurasia made a decision. This demonetisation thing was wrecking his little grocery in the Telibagh area of Lucknow. He was having to turn away customers. So he decided to buy a card swipe machine. For good measure, he bought three. Swiping is a breeze now although he still has to peer hard at the keypad.
“Samay sab sikha deta hai. Lekin aaj yeh suvidha phaiydemand saabit ho rahi hai,” he says.
However, he adds that the labourers and rickshaw pullers who throng his shop to buy atta and daal are in still distress due to the cash crunch.
Seven weeks into demonetisation, the queues have become shorter at Lucknow’s banks. At one ATM of a nationalised bank in the heart of town, I met Snigdha, who works for a ‘corporate’ company. She said she has begun to start out an hour early for office to stop at ATMs en route, wherever there’s a small queue. “The situation has eased to an extent. Now the queues are not very long, but for me it has become routine to look for cash twice or thrice a week. So the need for cash is there every second day,” she said.
Inside the banks, there’s no jostling at tellers’ windows and the tempers are cooler. “The crowds coming to our branches are almost normal and most of our ATMs have cash,” said the manager of a private bank.
“However, things have not improved much in the rural areas. Since most farmers have accounts in cooperative banks, they are really in a bad shape.”
The cash crunch was as bad in Lucknow, the state capital, as any other place in UP till about December 17. However, following a meeting between BJP chief Amit Shah and MPs of the state – they painted a grim picture ahead of the elections – the Centre turned on the money tap in UP. Two days before Narendra Modi’s rally in Kanpur on December 19, Rs 900 crore were sent to Lucknow alone.
Until then, UP's RBI office had been receiving currency in trickles of Rs 300-350 crore every three or four days. RBI sources told New Indian Express that from December 21, cash supply to Lucknow was increased three fold.
But some sectors, real estate for instance, are still limping. “The impact of the cash crunch and the withdrawal restrictions is likely to be felt for a long time,” said Adarsh Kumar, a realtor.
In Lucknow, which had the fastest-growing property rates last year, there is a sudden slump. Artisans in the world famous chikan industry are losing mandays because of a slump in demand across the country and jewellers have just reopened.
On the outskirts of the city, the agony is still palpable. Though farmers in Bakshi ka Talaba have managed to get through sowing for the winter crop, vegetable growers are still sulking over the sharp fall in prices of vegetables and other food items. “Farmers are selling their produce especially perishable foods, at much below their original price,” says Sunny Sonkar, a vegetable stockist in the Chowk area of Lucknow.
Bhoore Ram, a farmer in Mahoba in Bundelkhand, told me he suffered a huge loss as he had to undersell his paddy, which he harvested just after Nov. 8. His regular buyers were ready to give him the normal rate only if he would accept old notes. “I had to settle for a much lower rate,” he says.
But now there is word going round that the Prime Minister may make some major announcements to benefit farmers and the rural population. Now, lakhs of farmers are waiting with a bated breath for Narendra Modi’s Lucknow rally on January 2. “He is going to announce something big for us,” says Rampher Verma, a farmer in Barabanki.