People’s Voices On Note Ban

(Below are some testimonies from various People’s Tribunals and campaigns on the Note Ban, held in Patna, Udaipur and Delhi.)

At a People’s Tribunal held in Patna on December 2, 2016, economist and activist Jean Dreze pointed out that contrary to popular perception, black money is not always ‘cash in suitcases.’ Instead we should identify corrupt economic practices. He said the purpose behind Note Ban was to force ‘cashless’ practices that benefit big companies.

A farmer said: “I along with my entire family queued up at the bank and could get only Rs 5000 after 8 days. This amount is far from enough to meet labour and transport costs, let alone our living expenses. As a result of the Note Ban, the remuneration I get for the produce doesn’t even cover my input costs. My son is a construction worker, and he is still being paid wages in the old currency.

Another farmer said: “In Bihar almost 80% of farmers are sharecroppers. This mean that their entire family labours in their fields and the men also work as wage labour. Poor peasants like this do not usually deposit cash in banks – they keep cash on hand. Today that cash – and with it, their freedom to buy agricultural inputs and pay for irrigation – has been snatched away. It is lucky that this year the western winds (pachua) did not blow – or else the crops would have been devastated in absence of irrigation.

An agricultural labourer and activist said: “Widows and disability pensioners in Modanganj block of Jehanabad had withdrawn their pensions from Jan Dhan accounts just before 8 November – but these became useless overnight. So they had to queue up to deposit the amounts – but now their pensions are again locked up in banks. As a result, many Mahadalit pensioners are unable to pay for the medical care of sick members of their family. So they are taking loans at 30% from money lenders for treatment.

A woman auto driver said that it was difficult to get clients since she cannot give change for Rs 2000 notes.

A factory worker said: “Wages are not being paid because of Note Ban – the owner too says he can only make a partial payment, that too in the old currency. In ration shops, we can’t get rations on loan – so whatever meager cash we workers have is spent at the ration shop. We have nothing left to pay for hospital payments, school fees and other needs.

In Delhi, AICCTU, AIPWA and AISA are conducting a daily campaign against Note Ban. They have campaigned in Delhi’s Kapashera Border area, in Wazirpur industrial area and other working class areas. Pamphlets were distributed and a short film on Note Ban is screened in the evenings to kick start a discussion on the impact of Note Ban on the poor. Workers the activists spoke to complained: “We do not have cash to pay our room rents because of which landlords are harassing us. Many people have simply locked their rooms and gone back to their villages.” One worker said after the film screening: “I have never felt so helpless. Fifty days are almost over, but there’s no respite for the people.”

AISA is also campaigning among Delhi University students against the black money which flows due to the nexus of PG Mafias and organisations like ABVP. AISA activists emphasise that ‘kala dhan’ (black money) can’t be fought without hitting at ‘kala dhandha’ (corrupt practices) like that of the rent mafias in Delhi who exploit migrant students.

In Udaipur, Rajasthan, a People’s Tribunal was organised by Jantantrik Vichaar Manch on 18 December. At the Tribunal, a small scale industry owner said, “Production has fallen steeply and I have no cash to pay the workers.” A local hospital representative said, “The patient inflow has fallen to a mere 10% of the normal flow. And most patients have no cash. Construction workers spoke of job losses and the struggle for survival as a result of the Note Ban that has crippled the construction industry. A small farmers said, “The vegetables I grow now fetch much lower prices.” 


How Note Ban Has Hit

Daily-Wage Workers

(Excerpt from a piece by Dhirendra K Jha,, Dec 13, 2016)

For a snapshot of how urban daily-wagers are dealing with the impact of demonetisation-induced joblessness, visit Shanti Nagar, a residential hub of labourers in Firozabad, an industrial town in Uttar Pradesh 200 km from New Delhi and known for its glass industry, particularly its famed glass bangles.

“For a few days after bad times hit us, we survived on our savings,” said Raeesa Begum, a bangle worker and mother of eight. “By the end of November, we had consumed almost all of our savings. So we sold our bhathhi [household gas furnace used for soldering the joints of bangles] for Rs 500. Now, we have started eating only one full meal a day.”

Apart from the bhathhi, Raeesa Begum has sold most of her household utensils, and on December 5, when this reporter last met her, she was looking for a buyer for the family’s sole bicycle.

Demonetised notes worth Rs 11 lakh crore returned till now: Report

(Excerpt, SV Krishnamachari, International Business Times, December 1, 2016)

The pace at which the demonetised notes are coming back to the banking system is raising a question: will the demonetisation drive result in a “surgical strike” on black money? A report by business news channel CNBC-TV18, citing government sources, says about Rs 11 lakh crore has returned to the system as of November 30, out of a total of Rs 14.18 lakh crore. Indians still have 30 more days to deposit the banned notes with banks.
The earlier speculation by analysts was that about Rs 2.5 to 3 lakh crore of these notes will never return and was seen as a windfall for the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and ultimately, the government. However, those calculations could go awry if the trend till now as indicated by the CNBC-TV18 report is any indication.

Demonetisation hits Kerala fisher folk

(From an IANS report, November 11, 2016)

Teresa, a woman who sells fish in Thiruvananthapuram, is upset that customers wanting to buy fish have only Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 denomination notes.

“What will I do with these notes? Even if I take these, I will find it difficult to change them, and if I don’t take them, then tomorrow I won’t be able to buy fish. I have decided to sell fish to those only who come with legal money. I sold a kilo of seerfish for just Rs 250 a kilo, while the average price is Rs 500 and upwards. From tomorrow (Saturday), I will bring only low value fish so that it can be purchased using Rs 100 notes and other legal tender,” said an angry Teresa.

With the traditional fishing activities coming to a grinding halt, a few online fish vendors are seeing sales zoom.

How Narendra Modi changed the currency ban narrative

(Excerpt from a piece by Praveen Chakravarty, Firstpost, December 5, 2016)

The Prime Minister made six speeches across the country on the demonetisation policy between November 13 and November 27, including his radio address to the nation, Mann Ki Baat, according to data available on the Prime Minister’s personal website. The text of all the speeches are available on the website.

A data analysis of the speeches (after translation) reveals a shifting of the narrative of the demonetisation action and its objectives.

In his speech on November 8, 2016, when he announced the demonetisation policy, the Prime Minister used the phrase “black money” four times more than “fake/counterfeit currency”.
By November 27, he used the phrase “digital/cashless” thrice as much as “black money” with no mention of “fake currency”. Recall, there was zero mention of “digital/cashless” in the initial November 8 speech.

BJP Buys Bulk Bikes In UP

‘Irony of India’ web portal reported from Gorakhpur, UP, December 14 2016:

“At Jangal Chawri we have found at least 248 TVS bike with BJP stickers, parked and ready to be distributed.”

The BJP’s Beniganj office in Gorakhpur bought at least 188 of these bikes. Every constituency is to get four bikes for campaigning in UP elections.

Each bike is roughly estimated to cost Rs 37,105/- including registration fees: this means a total of Rs 91,80,000 for 248 bikes. Was this bought with white money? Will it be cited in poll expenditure to the Election Commission?

The Old Man and the Queue

(Excerpt from a piece by Sidharth Bhatia, The Wire, on 18/12/2016)

Photograph of Nand Lal, an elderly ex-serviceman, crying after missing his spot at a queue outside an SBI branch in Gurgaon. Credit: Praveen Kumar, Hindustan Times

Look at the photo carefully. The face of the man tells us countless stories of hardships suffered and misfortunes borne with fortitude. We now know that he lives alone in a small room and that he was a soldier; he would have faced enemy bullets and much else, but the failure to withdraw a few hundred rupees even after queuing up for three days proved just too much for him. Knowing that he would have to start all over again, and fully aware that at the end of it he may still come back empty handed, his dam just burst.

It is the others around him that give the photo its real meaning. The women may or may not be sympathising with him, but they don’t want to step out to console him because they could lose their place in the line too. Sympathy and solidarity must take second place to survival. The women’s faces are full of quiet desperation too, because they must get money, however little it may be, and go home, otherwise their families could suffer. The country is united in its suffering, but given that there is so little cash to go around and that even that is so difficult to get, it is each man or woman for themselves. Others’ sadness must wait….

The pain of demonetisation is not going to disappear any time soon. And even when it does, the lives of the poor are not going to improve. The lines may disappear, but they will have to cope with a regime hellbent on imposing technology on to them; what if a limit of cash withdrawal is set as a permanent feature? We would be foolish to think of this radical step being a whimsical, one-off move; this is part of a larger plan to redraw the way not just the country is administered but also how citizens themselves run their lives. In the meantime, the lines show no signs of getting shorter and people no closer to getting hold of cash.

More stories and more images of hardship will emerge. It is possible that the world will forget Nand Lal and move on. But his image will remain seared in our collective memory, if not our conscience. It is another matter that those who can and should ease his pain will not face that dilemma because they never even registered the photo in the first place.