Life has changed for many of us since the demonetization call on November 8. Overnight, some of us realized that the cash we had saved away to pay for deliveries, vendors, and other household expenses was currently worthless. This was followed by queues, endless queues, and them coming back home to read about even longer queues elsewhere in the country…
Here’s a lowdown on how the currency ban affects the people who are directly responsible for the food on our plates. Consider this just a glimpse into a nationwide condition; they’re sure to be many such stories across cities and smaller towns struggling to cope with massive change.
Hit hard by the Indian government’s move to ban Rs.500 and Rs.1000 currency notes, traders in wholesale markets across the national capital are reeling under a cloud of uncertainty.
While the queues in front of banks are slowly becoming shorter, the markets still wear a deserted look even after more than 20 days have passed since the announcement was made.
“We are struggling to make ends meet. The situation has worsened after government stopped the exchange of Rs.500 and Rs.1000 currency notes. Instead of improvement, the sales are going down with each passing day. Consumers are buying less, so the supply of goods is also on the downfall,” says vegetable vendor Gopal Bhawani.
Bhawani sells his wares in Azadpur Mandi, one of Asia’s largest wholesale markets for vegetables and fruits. Initially, during the first few days after the announcement, the wholesale traders accepted old-500 and 1000 denomination notes for intra-market dealings. However, that has stopped completely now, making the situation fairly grim for those who make their daily living at the market.
No other avenue
Shambhu Sahni is a fruit-vendor, originally from Sarsa district in Bihar. He claims he has no resort now but to hunt for other means of livelihood. “I bring fruits in limited quality now, fearing they will rot. Everything must be sold by the end of the day even if I have to give them at throwaway prices. Earlier I used to sell fruits for around Rs.4000 daily; now, I barely make a thousand. The profit margin is negiligible. What can a poor person do?” he asks plainly.
“We are looking around for other jobs. But, the situation is bad everywhere. Nowhere are payments made sufficiently nor immediately,” Sahni added as neighbouring fruit vendors, Shom Mukhya and Phochu Deb nodded in agreement.
“If the situation does not improve, we will have to head back to Bihar. We can’t make rent with these sales,” Deb said resignedly.
Traditional markets suffer
According to a report published in The Wire on November 18, the Confederation of All India Traders said that trade in markets across the country has reduced by 25 per cent post-demonetization; the retail trade is currently estimated at about Rs. 14,000 crore every day.
Away from the vegetable and food market, another wholesale market – Chawri Bazaar – in Delhi, which normally sees a mad footfall during every wedding season, remains in slumber. The cash crunch has led to cancellation of old orders in this wedding card market.
“In November and December, we always had to work overtime. This time around, we open shops late as there is almost no work. New orders are not being placed; many are postponing their wedding and old orders are either cancelled or numbers reduced,” says Sohan Lal, a worker in one of the shops in Chawri Bazaar.
The tiny lanes of the market are not frequented by customers this season, as people rely more on e-invites to save their liquid cash for other wedding expenses.
What’s the verdict?
“I’m not sure if the move is good or bad. But, the timing is very bad. It is not only our business, all businesses related to weddings will be affected. The wholesalers are the worst sufferers because they were prepared with sufficient stock to meet the expected demands of the season. Now, there is no demand,” Rahul Kumar, one of the card shop owners said.
The government is allowing the usage of old-500 notes for prepaid mobile top-ups, payment of fees in government colleges, schools, and municipal schools up to Rs.2000, purchase from consumer cooperative stores for Rs.5000 at one time, and payment of electricity and water bills. But, these rules change every day with frequent attempts at firefighting the chaos. However, none of these work in favour of wholesale markets or traders.
Whether demonetization will prove to be effective is, currently, anyone’s guess. The worry lines on the faces of vendors, shopkeepers, and traders depict only the sorry state so far.