Demonetisation has cast a pall of gloom over the famed potters’ quarters at Kumartuli here, as the idol makers have failed to pay outstanding labour charges in hard cash for the recently-concluded Durga puja celebrations.
Durga Puja may have ended on a high note for revellers in October but for the Kumartuli ‘godmakers’, it has been a descent into the abyss, in the month following the scrapping of high value notes.
Grappling with dwindling personal finances, they are also dealing with irate labourers who are yet to receive a section of their dues. This has implications for the upcoming festivities as without hard cash, it would be difficult to engage their services and complete orders in time.
“There are usually 2,700 to 2,800 labourers employed for the idol making. They come from various districts in the state. We usually pay 60 per cent of their charges when we engage their services and the rest is given after the pujas are over,” idol-maker Babu Pal, one of the spokespersons for the Kumartuli Mritshilpi Samiti, said.
Pal said, 40 per cent of the dues are paid-off post-Jagadhatri puja, which was observed from November 7 to November 10 this year. Demonetisation was initiated on November 8.
“But we failed to pay the 40 per cent because that period coincided with demonetisation of Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes and the labourers didn’t accept the spiked notes. I need to pay around Rs two lakhs in labour dues,” Pal said.
“This time of the year, work is usually in progress for producing idols for Saraswati puja in February next year. But this time, things are very slow. Most of us are lining up outside banks by day. The Rs 24,000 withdrawal limit is not enough as a major chunk is spent on living expenses. And the rest is not enough to pay off labour dues,” Pal pointed out.
“How do we manage to convince the labourers to work for us in the next season when we are unable to pay their Durga puja dues yet. We are stuck between two festive seasons without hard cash,” Pal lamented.
He said it is “highly likely” that most artists will borrow hard cash to ensure Saraswati puja idols are delivered within the stipulated time.
“We have to borrow cash because we need to purchase raw materials (like wood, straw) for the idols and to pay labourers. Not many of them use online banking systems so hard cash is the only option. We are seeing only dark days ahead,” he added.