Nov 08, 2016 was indeed earth shattering for many. I believed this bold move would destroy Black Money. I still remain an ardent supporter of the IDEA of DeMonetisation. Please note …the IDEA only. I also remain to be one of the strongest critic of the poorest planning and implementation ever seen. In the name of secrecy, RBI and the PM seem to have bungled big time, and when we add some unscrupulous bankers who exchanged the Black money for a 20% cut, then all we are left with is, Zilch plus lots of miseries for the poor and middle-class.
As a City dweller, I had quickly adjusted to the DeMonetisation. People in cities, adapted well. They used Paytm, MobiKwik, SBI Buddy, UPI, Credit/Debit Cards and shifted gears easily. Supporters of the move were quick to share Paytm payment QR codes flashed by Tea Sellers, Veggies Sellers etc. It is true, I faced very less problems in the City, oblivious to the fact that there actually exists another India within this country.
Armed with Cards from three top banks, my mobile phone loaded with Paytm Wallet, I set out to my hometown in Gods Own Country– Kerala, the highest literate state. With that kind of literacy they must have surely embraced the DeMonetisation, so I thought. I paid for the taxi at the airport through my card. That evening, I asked a shopkeeper for card payment, he said “Sorry”; I asked “Paytm?”- He replied “What’s that?”, So I let out my typical dialogue -“When will you learn to be a part of the Nation Building? How can one man Modi do everything? Don’t you want to do your bit to help people?” He replied – “Cheta (Elder Brother), please take whatever you want and pay me when you have the cash. We know your family, so we don’t have to worry. You are the first person who has asked for all these things. The poor people who come here don’t have all these cards and costly mobiles to do such E-payment.” I moved ahead. None of the Fish sellers had any such facility. When I asked one young fellow, he was quick to tell me, “Who is going to buy a new mobile for that. After all how much money do we make in this?” Then he added a few unprintable words.
The next day, I went to buy some cooking oil from the factory premises of one of the largest Coconut Oil mill in Kerala. A company that existed pre-independence since 1941 and now certified by ISO 9000:2000 standards. Naturally I expected card payment facility. The lady at the counter said, “No one pays by card. We still requested our bank to install one machine, it hasn’t been delivered so far. There is a shortage of these swipe machines”. I paid hard cash that I had earned by standing in Bank queues.
I went ahead to the biggest Chandha (market) in the town. Requested for the Card payment or Paytm. Again met with refusal. So I let out my favorite dialogue. The old man sitting in the counter told me, “People like you come once in a while. For that you expect me to have a swipe machine and pay rent for it and they take 2.5% from the billing. Here the poor come with just enough money to buy stuff they require. These things don’t work here. Go and Build your nation elsewhere”. Finally I found one shopkeeper ready to listen to me. I tried to install the Paytm App in his Samsung Duos, but it said No Space. I deleted a few apps and tried again. The download failed. He looked at me and said, “We will do this next time you come”. I had failed yet again.
Defeated in my efforts to drive sense to these people, I marched to the nearest bank where I have an account. There was hardly any queue. This bank has no queues because they have hardly any customers because they have just one branch in the Taluk HQ and the next branch is 20 kms away. Not many locals bank here. Hence no Queues. I presented my cheque of 10,000 and got a bagful of cash. Bundles of 10s, 20s, 50s. I told the lady, please take pity on me and give me 100s. She said “NO STOCK Sir”. I felt very rich that day with bundles in my bag. Earlier they just couldn’t even fill my pocket
The locals bank mostly with Cooperative Banks which are doing very well here unlike other states where they are generally scam ridden. Or the people bank with the most popular main stream Federal Bank, South Indian Bank, Dhanalakshmi Bank and State Bank of Travancore which have lots of branches in every town and some ATM’s in villages. The wait in those banks to get cash is four days. You go and present a cheque today, you get a token which mentions and time and date, 4 days later. What a pity!
The shortage of cash has put a lot of livelihoods in jeopardy…. Painters, Masons, Carpenters, Fishermen, Coconut Harvesters, Labourers are all suffering. Velu who is a mason’s assistant tells me that he has not found much work after November 8th. He was a busy man earlier with work available on Sundays too. Today he is eking out an existence doing odd jobs waiting for the day when the economy will improve and people will start employing him again.
I analysed why Kerala, the highest literate state has not gone the digital way with Plastic or E Wallet. The answer does not lie in the resistance by the people, but because of poor infrastructure. You hardly get a signal to talk in the mobiles, so getting an internet connection, to enable the electronic payment is out of question. Govt should have enabled the countryside to be wireless before they pulled the plug. The fault is with the poor infrastructure and not the people, and the fault lies solely with those who advised the PM without having any idea how the India outside its cities and towns function.
I hope our Nation will be able to rebound from the ill effects of DeMonetisation, because the Black Money has been converted to the new Black by collusion with few corrupt Bankers, and hardly any Counterfeit has been detected. So the twin aims of why we went in for DeMonetisation in the first place, seems underachieved so far. Truly as Dr. Manmohan Singh said, it seems to be really a case of – “Monumental Mismanagement”.
Today, I tend to believe that the whole exercise was indeed a Tughlaqi Farmaan especially for the poor rural folks! I only wish time proves me wrong!