Life after demonetisation

Many are facing a tough time while a few are managing just fine

Necessity is the mother of invention. With demonetisation rendering large swathes of people cashless, this has become truer than ever before. From shifting to cashless modes of payment, by choice or by force, to adopting creative ways of drawing cash, people have been coming up with every possible means of getting around the cash crunch.

The government too has been coming up with newer reasons for justifying its demonetisation drive. If it was crackdown on black money to begin with, somewhere down the line, it also became a move to nudge us into a cashless society.

We spoke with many people on how their lives have changed after demonetisation.

For Sayan Banerjee, a Delhi-based communications professional, demonetisation has brought about a forced change in spending habits. “I don’t go to the local kirana shops anymore and do all my grocery shopping at Twenty Four Seven Stores. I use Paytm at Mother Dairy outlets and also to pay for autos and have shifted to the Delhi Metro online recharge,” says Sayan.

Lalit Saigal, who runs a Mumbai-based start-up,Yguys has been managing by paying his vendors by card or cheque. He recently organised a big event and most of his vendors agreed to be paid by cheque because of their long-term relationship with him. “But it was problematic for them because if they went to a non-home bank branch to deposit the cheques, banks were using their discretion in giving them cash as they themselves were short on cash,” says Lalit. While he supports demonetisation he feels it should have been planned better.

All is not well

In fact, things went quite a bit awry for Lalit when his wife, who delivered twins, was due for discharge on November 9, the very day after demonetisation was announced. Overnight, he was left stranded with a huge stock of old notes. While he had the option of paying by cheque, that meant delaying the discharge (and bumping up the bill) till the cheque was cleared. Payment by debit card though immediate entailed a charge. He finally used a combination of online transfer and payment by cash and card to settle his bill.

A few others too have had their share of hospital woes, though of a different kind. With many hospitals continuing to insist on being paid in cash (at least for part of the bill), patients and their relatives have been left with no choice but to arrange for new notes or give up their preciously built stock of them.

Jayprakash, a 62-year-old retired banker, had to part with ₹35,000 when the hospital treating his wife insisted on being paid in cash. “I had some reserve money and fortunately most of it was in ₹100 and ₹50 notes. That helped. Otherwise, I would have faced a problem,” explains Jayprakash. But for this one incident, he has otherwise been able to tide through demonetisation comfortably thanks to his reliance on cashless modes of payment.

According to an online survey by BusinessLine, one-third of the 363 respondents said they were still being asked to make cash payments at hospitals. This writer, too, has been asked to cough up notes, though only a few hundreds, for paying doctors’ consultation fee.

Mahaveer Kushwaha, a farmer owning 12 bighas (a traditional unit of area measurement) of land in Baran, Rajasthan, has not been facing a cash crunch. But, demonetisation has dealt him a blow, as to many other farmers, in a different way. “Vegetable prices have fallen because people don’t have cash to buy and we are not earning the expected return. The onions that I harvested are still lying around as the price has gone down,” laments Mahaveer. The result? He hasn’t grown any vegetables and has instead planted wheat this time.

The daily grind

Furthermore, even for those not substantially dependent on cash, getting small amounts of it has also become an everyday struggle. An exasperated elderly person standing in an ATM queue described his status thus, “our situation is similar to that of a pregnant woman who has no option but to patiently wait it out. But, at least she knows it is a matter of only nine months. In our case, we don’t know how long it will last.”

Others have taken to their daily grind of cash withdrawals more stoically. Some have also adopted unique ways to minimise the time wasted in cash withdrawals. One such person employed as a security guard in a private firm has been going to ATMs at eleven thirty in the night after completing his duty. Once his turn comes, he draws ₹6,000 using his three cards. Then he stands in the queue again and by the time his turn comes, he is able to draw another ₹6,000 as it is well past twelve by then.

Many people have in fact been queueing outside ATMs rather than going to banks even though the weekly withdrawal limit of ₹24,000 at banks is much higher. The reasons are many, as people standing in ATM lines explain. With banks running tight on cash, they are limiting the cash withdrawal per person to as low as ₹4,000-6,000 and are giving priority to their own branch customers. Non-home branch customers are being turned away. Many people are, therefore, left with no choice but to go to ATMs for the convenience of time and location that they offer.

Cash is no longer king

For R U Srinivas, an ex-BPO professional-turned-entrepreneur, going to his bank (IDBI Bank) branch has been more convenient than ATM-hopping. Getting change for the ₹2,000 rupee notes is what has been problematic. To him, demonetisation has posed only a minor challenge. “There are times when I’ve needed cash but nothing important has stopped because of this,” says Srinivas who runs the idli factory, chennai which makes ready-to-eat podi idlis.

“We have very small dealings in cash and these get funded by the cash we receive from our direct purchase-customers. Even those who have taken cash from us in the past are willing to accept cheques now,” adds Srinivas. On the personal front too, he has sailed through smoothly.

Sayan Banerjee too has been lucky enough to get hold of some new currency thanks to visits by bank representatives at his office. Cash gifts, all in new currency, given to him at his recent engagement also have been a great help.

Demonetisation seems to have left Raju Rathore, a farmer with four acres of land in Gulbarga, Karnataka, also unaffected. “I make daily sales of ₹2,000-4,000. I sell my produce to big traders for cash. Even other people in my village are getting paid,” says Raju.

With the RBI and the government continuing to come up with a host of conflicting announcements, one wonders when this chaotic situation will finally come to an end.

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