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100 days of demonetisation: Stories of hardship

From people who lost jobs, to people who lost loved ones – seven stories that reveal the impact of demonetisation.

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Ludhiana, delhi and Noida – A few hours before midnight on November 8, 2016, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared on state television to make an announcement. Two high-value  notes – the 500 rupee ($7.5) and 1,000 rupee ($14.9) – would no longer be legal tender, he said.

The move had been taken to combat “black money” or unaccounted income, which makes up nearly one fifth of India’s economy, he said.

But much of the country’s largely cash-based society screeched to a halt. Daily-wage labourers and other poor Indians were particularly hard hit.

Here, seven Indians share their stories of demonetisation.

Monika, 48-year-old housewife

‘Demonetisation brought us to the brink of begging’

One hundred days after demonetisation was introduced, Monika says life still hasn’t returned to normal and she cannot forget the hardships her family endured [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

Monika cannot forget the hardships her family endured in the two months following Modi’s decision to ban 86 percent of the country’s currency.

Standing inside the cramped kitchen of her family’s one-bedroom home, she explains that her husband, who works as a security guard at a private school in Ludhiana city, went without pay for two months as the school ran out of cash.

The family of four, including the couple’s 21-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son, relied on her husband’s 9,000 rupee ($135) monthly salary and, without it, they were sometimes forced to go without food.

“My family slept without food for days,” the housewife explains. “I will never forget … that demonetisation brought us to the brink of begging for food.”

OPINION: India’s demonetisation quagmire and its victims

With her eyes fixed on the kitchen window, she says: “We aren’t beggars that we will go on the streets asking people for money.”

And even if they had, she explains, none of their neighbours would have been able to help them.

“All of us are poor in this area and everyone was struggling like us,” she says.

The note ban – or notebandi as it is commonly referred to – hit poor people, like those in Monika’s neighbourhood, hardest.

Monika, who goes by just one name, says life still has not returned to normal. Her husband is now being paid again but in instalments.

In a country where about 90 percent of transactions are made in cash, demonetisation forced millions to stand in queues in front of banks as they tried to exchange the banned currency.

But, Monika says, she didn’t have to queue. “We don’t have a bank account as we are poor,” she says, before adding: “I don’t know how demonetisation will help my future, but it turned my present life into a nightmare.”

Hemlata, 29-year-old shawl cutter

‘Did those with black money sleep on an empty stomach?’

Hemlata, 29, has had to borrow money from moneylenders to pay for medication for her chronically ill daughter. But, she asks, ‘How am I going to repay that money?’ [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

Monika’s story has many parallels in the government-built Economically Weaker Section housing society where she lives in Ludhiana’s Samrala Chowk area.

Twenty-nine-year-old Hemlata is her neighbour and has also fallen on hard times as her husband lost his job when the factory he worked in closed down due to the cash crunch.

Hemlata, who goes by just one name, is sitting in the housing society’s courtyard with some other women. It is the only open area in the otherwise cramped and squalid neighbourhood of approximately 30 small concrete homes.

To make up for her husband’s lost income, Hemlata has started working part time.

IN PICTURES: ‘How do I feed my family now?’

“My neighbour has given me this work where I process [cut] these shawls and get 0.50 paisa [half a rupee] for every piece. I process around 50 to 60 pieces in a day,” she explains, sitting amid piles of shawls with her three-year-old daughter.

But the 45 cents she makes daily is not enough to cover the family’s most basic expenses.

“This is a very small amount and it is not enough to get us one meal a day. And I have to also pay the rent, electricity and school fees,” she says, her voice breaking. “I will have to manage, till my husband is able to find a job.”

On top of those expenses, she must also buy medicine for her two-year-old daughter, who has suffered from a chronic disease since birth.

“My daughter needs her medicine every day and I have to resort to borrowing money from neighbours and moneylenders to buy it.”

“How am I going to repay that money?” she asks.

Although the 7,000 rupees ($105) that her husband used to earn in the factory was far below the country’s average monthly wage of about $250, it helped the family of four get by.

But for the past two months, her husband has been unable to find a new job.

Ludhiana is a large industrial city, known for its hosiery industry. But more than 70 percent of the city’s 12,000 hosiery factories, which employed more than 400,000 people, shut down because of the demonetisation.

Hemlata is angry that the government’s decision led to her husband’s redundancy.

“I think all the schemes of the government are for the rich, and the poor are never considered,” she says.

“Please tell me if you heard of those with black money sleeping on an empty stomach because of demonetisation.”

As she cuts a shawl, Hemlata says that the government should have made provisions for poor people like her.

“This is a disaster,” she concludes. “I don’t see my life becoming normal again.”

Rajwinder Singh, 34-year-old union president

‘It left people jobless, starving and desperate’

Rajwinder Singh is the president of the factory workers’ union and describes demonetisation as ‘a disaster for the unskilled labour sector’ [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

“I don’t know how demonetisation helped, but it was a disaster for the unskilled labour sector,” says Rajwinder Singh.

Rajwinder is the president of the Karkhana Mazdoor Union, or factory workers’ union, in Ludhiana and is sitting in the small community library of the Economically Weaker Section housing society.

“It left people jobless, starving and desperate,” he says.

Immediately after demonetisation was announced, the wholesale market was closed for 20 days, Rajwinder says.

“When the market was closed, there was no sale and the factories had to stop production and as a result many factories cut down the number of employees by 50 percent, while many just shut the shop,” he says.

“I have seen factories that used to have 250 workers and post-demonetisation were reduced to five workers.”

The softly-spoken, bespectacled union leader said that migrant labourers from the states of Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, who had come to Ludhiana for work, had no choice but to return to their home regions.

READ MORE: Demonetisation takes its toll on the poor

“I met so many labourers who had no food in their house for the past so many days. They had children who were starving.”

Some factory owners, he says, paid the workers in old notes that were no longer valid.

“The poor man had no choice but to take it and then stand for hours in the queue of a bank to get it exchanged.”

“And since these are daily-wage labourers, they would lose out on that day’s pay,” he says, removing his glasses and wiping his eyes.

The flight of labour from the city has affected him as well.

“I get my salary from the funds we collect from the labourers. When the worker has no money, then how will he contribute money to the union fund?” he asks.

Nand Kishore, 22-year-old unemployed former factory worker

‘Is this the way the government makes policies?’

Nand Kishore says factory owners are taking advantage of the situation by offering salaries that are half what they used to be [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

Nand Kishore moved to Ludhiana from his hometown of Gaya, in the eastern state of Bihar, four years ago, looking for work.

He found it in a wool factory, where he earned 7,500 rupees ($112) a month. But in December, he was laid off.

Now he spends his days sitting on a bench in the overcrowded working-class neighbourhood of Sundar Nagar.

He has been looking for work but hasn’t found any. And with each passing day, he grows more concerned.

“I don’t want to go back home as I have very old parents to take care of and they will get really worried to see me sitting jobless at home,” he says.

So, for now, he’ll stay living in the room he shares with four other men from his village.

Nand used to send money to his parents regularly. But for the past two months, he hasn’t been able to send anything.

“As their only son, this pains me a lot,” he says.

He accuses factory owners of exploiting their workers.

“They are offering jobs at half the wage that I used to earn. Many have in desperation taken up the jobs at half the pay or have just left for their village,” he says.

But, ultimately, it is the government he blames.

“If standing in the ATM or bank queue was the only suffering I had to go through I would have managed, but my job was taken away,” he says looking towards the sky.

“Is this the way a government makes policies? I have no idea about how government functions, but I know that they have made my life miserable.”

Parminder Singh, 30-year-old factory supervisor

‘My mother died because of demonetisation’

Parminder Singh holds a picture of his 50-year-old mother who died while waiting in a queue at an ATM. His sister, right, blames herself as their mother was trying to withdraw money to pay for her wedding [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

Parminder Singh’s eyes fill with tears when he speaks about his mother.

She died on December 8 as she was standing in an ATM queue, waiting to withdraw money to pay for her daughter’s wedding. She was 50.

Approximately 80 people are thought to have died as a result of demonetisation – either while waiting in queues or because they were refused medical treatment as they didn’t have the necessary cash to pay for it.

“My mother died because of demonetisation,” he says. “Not even millions of rupees can get her back.”

A supervisor in a hosiery factory earning 13,000 ($195) a month, Parminder lives with his wife, their one-year-old daughter and his sister in a middle-class neighbourhood.

He says his 25-year-old sister blames herself for their mother’s death.

“It’s just heartbreaking to see her like this. I try to stay strong in front of her but I weep every day in my room when I am alone,” he says.

He is angry at the government.

“It was my mother’s money. She did not have to die to take it out,” he says. “She had every right to access it without any trouble.”

Yamuna Prasad, 29-year-old factory worker

‘A rich man would have used his card to get his mother admitted to a hospital, but what about people like me?’

Yamuna Prasad believes his mother would still be alive if he had been able to withdraw money to pay for private medical care for her [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

Yamuna Prasad is a broken man. He has been ever since his 70-year-old mother died two months ago.

“I couldn’t cremate my mother for two days after her death because I did not have cash in hand,” he says.

On December 25, he took his mother to a government hospital after she complained of stomach pain.

“Everybody knows about the pathetic state of government-run hospitals here,” he says, angrily.

He would have preferred to have taken her to a private hospital where he believes she would have received better care. But he didn’t have time to stand in a long queue at a bank or ATM to withdraw the money he would have needed to pay for private medical treatment.

Without access to this money, he also had to delay his mother’s cremation.

“Things look normal now, but how do I forget that I couldn’t give my mother a dignified cremation?” he asks

Yamuna says a local politician helped him to pay for the cremation, contributing 10,000 rupees ($150).

He earns 8,000 ($120) a month working 12-hour shifts in a factory to support his wife, two-year-old daughter and three-year-old son. But he worries that with barely any savings, his children will grow up to become labourers.

He believes the government pushes policies that support the rich but neglect the poor.

“Why are rules made without thinking about the consequences on the poor?” he asks. “A rich man would have used his card to get his mother admitted to a hospital, but what about people like me?”

Anisa Khatoon, 48-year-old housewife

‘It took me years to save that money’

Anisa Khatoon says she feels cheated by the government after she lost some of her savings as a result of demonetisation [Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

Anisa Khatoon says it took her years to save 10,000 rupees [$150] in a tin box. She kept the money there without her husband’s knowledge so that she might one day be able to pay for her daughter’s wedding.

But after the government banned the notes she had saved, the mother of six had no choice but to tell her husband, a cycle-rickshaw puller in the New Delhi suburb of Noida.

Her husband responded angrily and refused to stand in a queue to exchange the notes, she says.

“I had to take the help of a boy from my locality who took a commission of 2,000 rupees ($29),” Anisa explains as she stands in front of her shack in the impoverished Sector 16 neighbourhood.

“It might not be a lot of money for many, but it is the only savings I have and the 2,000 rupees I lost as commission was a lot of money for me.”

The 48-year-old runs her household on the 9,000 rupees ($135) that her husband earns each month.

She says she feels cheated by the government’s decision.

“The government said the poor will benefit from demonetisation but I don’t know when and how. It took me years to save that money, and losing even a part of it is heartbreaking.”

Demonetisation

Fake 2,000-rupee note was out within 53 days of demonetisation!

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ncrb-wefornews

By Rajnish Singh 

New Delhi, Dec 7 : It didn’t take long for fake notes of 2,000 rupees to start circulating after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced demonetisation in November 2016, with one of its stated aims being to kill counterfeit currency, official data show.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) latest report released on November 30, a total of 2,272 fake notes of Rs 2,000 denomination were seized in 2016. Since the Rs 2,000 note — along with the new Rs 500 currency — was introduced only after November 8, 2016, it means that those counterfeiting the notes got into the act very quickly.

In just 53 days between November 8 and December 31 last year, police and other government agencies seized 2,272 fake Rs 2,000 notes — at a time when people across the country were struggling to get hold of the new currency.

The maximum number of these Rs 2,000 fake notes were seized in Gujarat (1,300), followed by Punjab (548), Karnataka (254), Telangana (114), Maharashtra (27), Madhya Pradesh (8), Rajasthan (6) and Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and Haryana (3 each). Jammu and Kashmir and Kerala accounted for two fake notes each. One such note was seized in Manipur as well as in Odisha.

The Rs 2,000 notes were part of the 281,839 fake notes of various denominations recovered from different locations across India.

When Modi announced the note ban, he said it was being done to end black money, counter terror financing and do away with counterfeit currency.

Among other fakes, 82,494 notes of Rs 1,000 and 132,227 of Rs 500 denomination were also seized last year along with 59,713 notes of Rs 100 and 2,137 notes of Rs 50, said the annual publication of NCRB released by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh.

In a number of raids across the country, police forces, the Income Tax department and other government agencies also recovered 184 fake notes of Rs 20, at least 615 notes and coins of Rs 10 and 2,001 notes of Rs 5.

Also seized were 196 fake coins of Rupee 1 denomination — between January to December 31 last year.

According to the data, the face value of the total fake notes found in 2016 is Rs 101,222,821.

In terms of value of maximum fake notes, Delhi (Rs 56,521,460) topped the list.

The national capital was followed by Gujarat (Rs 23,724,050), West Bengal (Rs 23,295,800), Andhra Pradesh (Rs 9,280,000), Karnataka (Rs 8,009,136), Telangana (Rs 7,600,905), Uttar Pradesh (Rs 5,013,700), Maharashtra (Rs 4,799,700), Punjab (Rs 4,239,750), Bihar (Rs 3,736,800), Tamil Nadu (Rs 3,342,540), Kerala (Rs 2,057,200), Madhya Pradesh (Rs 1,626,890), Chandigarh (Rs 1,499,000), Rajasthan (1,035,100), Assam (Rs 800,050), Jharkhand (Rs 706,000) and Uttarakhand (Rs 666,400).

At 114,751, Delhi also topped the chart in terms of maximum seizure of fake notes, followed by Gujarat (39,725), West Bengal (32,869), Andhra Pradesh (14,541), Karnataka (14,228) and Telangana (12,667).

Among all the states and union territories, Goa accounted for just 21 fake notes having a face value of Rs 17,000.

No fake note was recovered from Chhattisgarh, Sikkim, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu as well as Lakshadweep, the NCRB data says.

The data said a total of 1,172 FIRs were registered and 1,107 people arrested for their involvement in the illegal trade.

IANS

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Demonetisation

Demonetisation a ‘magical’ scheme that turned black into white: Rahul Gandhi

Modi had on November 8 last year announced the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes.

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RAHUL-GANDHI

Dahod (Guajrat), Nov 25 : Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi on Saturday said that demonetisation was a “magical” scheme by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that turned all the black money into white.

Addressing the “Adivasi Adhikar Sabha” (Meeting for tribal rights) in this Gujarat district, he said that while the common man stood in long bank queues for days, the rich got their old currency exchanged through the backdoor.

“There is another magic by Modiji and it is demonetisation. You all stood in bank queues, but did you see any suited-booted gentleman standing in the queue? You did not, and I will tell you why,” Gandhi said.

“It is because all the suited-booted guys entered the banks from the back door, sat in air-conditioned rooms and got their lakhs and crores exchanged. All the thieves thus got their black money converted into white through magic,” he said.

Modi had on November 8 last year announced the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes.

Gandhi also attacked Modi over not fulfilling the promises he made to the tribal people.

“Modiji did not give a penny to the tribals, but he granted your land, which you call mother, worth Rs 33,000 crore to Tata’s Nano project. But the interesting thing is that I do not see any Nano cars on the roads in Gujarat or elsewhere,” he said.

Gandhi emphasised that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) governemnt had allocated Rs 35,000 crore for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme that provided sustenance to millions across the country.

“And here, Modiji gave this much amount to just one industrialist in one single state. Be it land, be it electricity or be it Narmada’s water, everything is being given to just 5-10 select people,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Gandhi visited residences of Congress Rajya Sabha MP Madhusudan Mistry who has lost his son and that of former MP and AICC Secretary Mirza Irshad Baig who passed away recently, to convey his condolences.

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Demonetisation

Interview Niti Aayog’s Bibek Debroy: Demonetisation was for institutional cleansing

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Bibek Debroy
Bibek Debroy during an interview with IANS in New Delhi. (Photo: Bidesh Manna/IANS)

New Delhi, Nov 9: NITI Ayog member Bibek Debroy admits that demonetisation was a temporary shock on growth but asserts that the economy has now climbed back. One year into the disruptive note ban, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s economic policy adviser says the worst is over and there are signs that things are improving now.

He also says demonetisation should not be seen through a narrow cost-benefit calculus but as a move aimed at “institutional cleansing”.

“Yes, there has been a dip, but followed by a climb back. If you look at the data, there has been a slowdown in the growth rate continuously. I have not seen any data, even remotely statistical, which suggests that demonetisation has led to a more than temporary shock in terms of growth or employment,” Debroy, who heads the Economic Advisory Council revived recently by the Prime Minister, told IANS in an interview.

Debroy said demonetisation should not be looked at only from an economic perspective.

“If I evaluate it with a narrow economic cost-benefit calculus, I think that would be unfair, because the intention (behind the move) was not narrow economics,” Debroy said. The decision was aimed at institutional cleansing. “How do I even quantify and measure it?”

“If I look at it only with that economic lens, I will evaluate the costs and the benefits in a certain way. If I look at it with a political-economic kind of lens of cleansing up the system, I will evaluate it in a slightly different way.”

Debroy said that purely in terms of economics, one will not have to wait too long as some data, like that of direct tax collections, would come out soon which would reflect demonetisation and help understand its implications.

There was “excessively high” prevalence of cash in the system till last year and cash-to-GDP ratio has now sharply declined by almost one-third post-demonetisation, he said.

Debroy said that before demonetisation, the cash-to-GDP ratio in India was almost 13 per cent. “That’s excessive. It has now come down to a little over nine per cent,” Debroy noted.

“A lot of the cash in India was excessive and was not yielding returns to the person who held the cash, nor was it performing the role that money performs as a multiplier.”

“I’m not comparing with developed countries but even if you compare with other countries in South Asia, India had too much cash,” he said.

As per estimates, the cash-to-GDP ratio was 5.8 per cent in Bangladesh, 3.5 per cent in Sri Lanka and 9.3 per cent in Pakistan in 2015, whereas in India it was 13 per cent.

“That excessive cash has now vanished. The money has now come into the banking system. But that does not necessarily legitimise that money. You have to subject yourself to further scrutiny,” Debroy said.

Debroy has come out with a compilation, “On the Trail of the Black”, along with his colleague Kishore Arun Desai, with contributions from several writers tracing the prevalence of corruption and evaluating its impact on society and the economy.

He admitted that every decision related to the demonetisation exercise might not have been perfect.

“But we know that with the benefit of hindsight…. and this kind of thing had never been attempted before,” he said.

Read more…Bollywood’s organised sections escaped impact, but daily wagers suffered

He said the biggest challenge in implementing the demonetisation decision was to maintain the surprise element which was crucial.

Kishore Arun Desai, who edited the book along with Debroy, said the war against corruption was a work in progress and November 8, 2016, should not be looked at in isolation.

“We’re talking a lot about November 8, but there are a series of actions that the government has been taking ever since coming to power, starting with setting up an SIT on black money, followed by the Benami Transactions Act, an act for transparent auction of coal mines, the Income Declaration Scheme, the RERA Act and the Jan Dhan Yojana.

“We have been witnessing the overall intent of the government of cleaning up the economy across various sectors and demonetisation was just a trigger and one of the boldest steps,” Desai told IANS.

IANS

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