KANNANKOTTAI: Half a plate of boiled rice is what B Thatchayeni and her family have for the next 24 hours. With hardly anything left of the rice the farm worker had borrowed from her neighbour, and no money for vegetables, pulses or milk formula for her three-month-old baby, she has pinned her hopes on her husband Babu returning with money from the bank 10 km away. This was his third trip to the bank to exchange their only Rs. 1000 note.
Babu and others from Kannankottai, a remote agricultural village 70 km from Chennai near Gummidipoondi in Thiruvallur district, waited in the queue outside Canara Bank at Madharpakkam to get a token to enter the premises the next day.
Demonetisation has been a double-blow to the people of Kannankottai, who were still recovering from the drought this year. The economy has almost come to a standstill since demonetisation and the streets are deserted. Kirana stores have started to shut and people hardly step out.
However, the barter system has given some respite to Kannankottai, even if temporary. While caste Hindus in the village share milk from the cows in their backyards, Dalits in the Adi Dravidar Colony have to struggle to buy milk packets for their children. Some are at the mercy of hotels in the highway for rice as PDS outlets have not reached out to them since September. One woman, S Malliamma (54), legs swollen due to a ligament tear, said she sat outside a motel in Kemalur village since early morning for a half-cup of rice which the owner had promised to lend her.
With poor bus connectivity and very few two-wheelers, Kannankottai depends heavily on share autos. Rubbing salt into their wounds, one of the two share autos connecting the village to the main road sprang a tyre, and its owner doesn’t have new currency notes to replace it. So, villagers walk all the way to Madharpakkam or even Kavaraipettai town located 18 km away to catch a bus. And the buses do not accept demonetised notes. The small amount of gold and silver some of the villagers have has been of much use. The only pawn shop in the panchayat shut down a few days ago.
With none of the landowners here taking up cultivation and the MGNREGA scheme coming to a halt, people have started taking up odd jobs in neighbouring towns for survival. But things got gloomier still after Nov. 8 as their new employers ran short of cash to pay them.
“We did not get our wages (Rs. 120/day) for five days. After repeated requests, the middlemen paid the wages of five people from our street (Rs. 3,000) on Tuesday,” said J Munirathnam. The daily-wage labourer was made to walk all the way to the bank to get new notes and he returned empty-handed because of the queue there.
“Unlike cities, we prefer to have cash in hand to meet unexpected expenses,” said E Govindasamy. For instance, if there is a disease outbreak, farmers have to buy pesticides, pay workers and get things done in a short span. “You can’t expect them to go to a bank or ATM located miles away then,” he says.
Expecting rains in November, many land owners had borrowed money to the tune of a few lakhs to invest in the new crop. But the monsoons has failed and local banks are not accepting demonetised notes. Though banks in the towns do accept them, many villagers have no knowledge of PAN cards or even have bank accounts. And those who do have accounts are being asked to furnish their source of income.
Narrating an incident, D Dayalan, a villager, said a 17-year-old girl studying engineering approached a bank in the district to deposit Rs. 25,000 that her father had saved for her marriage over four years. Suspecting a sudden jump in income, the bank manager threatened to scrap her educational loan-cum-scholarship.
Some who had taken crop loans are unable to repay them because agriculture cooperative societies were closed, “What does the government expect us to do with these notes?” asks Dayalan.