By Sudeep Pagedar:
I come from a middle-class and urban background. Most of my money is online – either in a Paytm account or in a credit or debit card. I travel by Ola and Uber and pay by my card. I shop online for groceries, food and other items I require. Not having enough cash does affect me when I need to stop by a store to buy certain items that cost under ₹ 100. In short, I may be irked, irritated, and inconvenienced; but I am fine.
Who is affected, though? Those who have predominantly been living within a ‘cash-only system’ – labourers, farmers, people who do not have a birth certificate (so they can’t get other identity documents), those without bank accounts (quite possibly because the nearest bank is far away and necessitates walking some kilometres, taking a boat, taking a bus, walking some more, and repeating the process in reverse to get back home) and other such groups of people.
I can relate to this at a very personal level. In 2011, I was interning with an NGO in Bihar, working on documenting violations of the human rights of those living in the northern districts of the state. In Supaul, one of the northern districts, I was staying in a village which could only be accessed by the means of transport mentioned above. It involved walking, taking a bus, then a motorcycle, then a boat, then walking some more. The nearest hospital, school – and bank – were at least 10 to 12 kilometres away. Everyone used cash, many did not have identity documents, and most important of all, technology to them was unattainable.
There are still those who cannot afford the cheapest smartphone which costs no more than ₹ 2000. They are not able to use Ola Money or Paytm accounts to transact. These are the people who are getting affected. Those whose salaries are under ₹ 2000 a month, daily-wage earners, and others from marginalised communities. Larger bills might serve as a deterrent to transacting with cash in the longer run, but in the short term, introducing currency notes with excessively high denominations, many feel, is nothing short of ridiculous, not to mention, chaotic.
The move towards demonetisation does, perhaps, have some merits, but should the government not have put the necessary infrastructure in place to handle the fallout of this move, impacting those who don’t trade in or hoard black money? The demon in this demonetisation has reared its ugly head, and this is bound to get worse before it can get any better. What remains to be seen is whether this move will bear significant fruit, or if it will go down in the annals of history as among the most flawed calls ever taken by a ruling government.