In an attempt to curb black money, the Centre’s overnight decision to demonetise Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes has left Indians in utter distress. Keeping aside all opinion on whether the move is for the greater good or may weaken the currency system, the short term consequences didn’t go as planned.
The decision to ban the higher value currency notes of was so fast and so real that within no time long serpentine queues were seen outside all ATMs since the very day of the announcement. What followed after the fateful night was chaos, inconvenience, and delays as if the entire country was wrapped in an air of despondency.
The effect has been varied and far-stretched. Even the most peaceful areas of Kolkata have witnessed heated arguments and disappointments oozing out of cash crunch. A locality like Salt Lake lying in the eastern part of the city – where people are carried away by the silence of the streets and the occasional whisper of the winds – is as much affected as any other part of the country. For nearly three weeks, ATMs remained closed and banks were busy accommodating a huge wave of a smothering crowd.
Starting from SBI to ICICI, from Bandhan Bank to Citibank, and many other private and public sector banks, none really had anything to offer to the maddening crowd other than space and consolation. Office-goers, retirees and students expressed their resentment while waiting in queues. However, the only perceived silver lining of the Central government’s announcement is that the demonetisation has taken place in the winter, sparing the masses of sweaty afternoons.
People waiting outside ATMs or banks are divided on their opinion about the move. While one set believes that if India needs to be washed off the dirt that was being deposited since time immemorial, this was imperative and they don’t mind standing as long as the results are fair. The other set not only believes that the move is futile, but asserts that it will cripple the Indian economy further.
“This has jeopardised people’s daily lives. I am running late for work and I am guessing millions of others are. It might have a huge impact later but the immediate consequences show that it is a hollow move. I believe this policy needed better planning and proper execution,” said Anish Banerjee, an HB block resident, who was waiting outside the Bidhannagar branch of Union Bank of India.
While tech-savvy people are busy with online banking, reality has hit rickshaw pullers, auto drivers, street side vendors and others living on a meagre income the hardest. “If they would have given us some time, then we would not have been stuck in this whole mess of cash crunch.
Most of the people in my village have been sacked as the owners who run factories are unable to pay their workers. It is extremely difficult for people back there to run their families in this manner. I don’t think this move is going to help the government,” said a 40-year-old lady who runs a tea shop at Karunamoyee, one of the prime locations in Salt Lake.
With banks running out of cash much before their closing time, the only place that bring some respite to people with Rs 500 notes are petrol pumps. However, drivers have to wait for hours, forming beelines only to see the lines getting longer.
Petrol pumps near City Centre 1, Karunamoyee, Salt Lake Swimming pool, Salt lake Stadium, Sector 5 and Tank no. 8 saw the maximum number of queues, as people were clever enough to take advantage of the last few days to use the banned currency notes.
“Look what has our beloved Prime Minister has done! The entire nation has gone berserk and there’s no solution to this chaos. We have to wait for hours to get our tanks refilled. A few days ago I had to wait nearly 2 hours at the petrol station near Salt Lake Stadium to get diesel for my car. The entire process, starting from withdrawing cash from ATMs to waiting here at pumps, is physically taxing. I hope this gets sorted as soon as possible,” said Prabir Lodh, an employee of Apollo Gleneagles.
People across the country are not only struggling with long queues, but also running from shop to shop to get notes of lower denominations necessary for travelling around, as payments for buses or autos cannot be made through e-wallet or cards.
“Auto drivers are not willing to give loose change as a hundred others have been asking for the same. In order to pay the drivers on my way to work, I have to get change by buying stuff from roadside shops,” said Piya Roy, an IT employee. With several days having passed by, the messy affair will surely take a hell lot of time to settle down. However, until then it will continue testing the patience of the people.
As the government looks forward to a cashless economy, the long-term consequences can hardly be predicted at the moment. Amidst this chaos, which would take a few more months to die down, we can only hope for a peaceful and prosperous new year.