“Why not? Surely, we can take a bit of discomfort if demonetisation is meant for the greater common good.”
This was the mood at the queues at banks and their cash-vending machines a fortnight ago, around seven days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the big announcement. Three weeks on, the mood appears less charitable. There’s more irritation on the faces of people and they are more prone to picking fights with others for reasons they would have ignored earlier with a friendly smile. “Man! How long is it going to last? What the hell is going on?’’
The signs of frustration are hard to miss.
The pay-day rush has worsened the collective feeling. There are not too many bad words about the prime minister and demonetisation yet, but acerbic questions have started trickling in. “Where are the rich people in the queues? They have fun with black money and we, the middle class people, have to suffer like this,” a gentleman, around 60, tells you. He is tired of running to his bank at IP Extension in Patparganj every few days and feels he cannot take it anymore if the shortage of cash continues.
“The Rs 2,000 notes that banks offer are as worthless as the Rs 1,000 notes rendered useless. No one accepts them; if they do it, it is on the condition that you buy goods worth the amount. Nobody is prepared to let go of the Rs 100 and Rs 50 notes even if they have a good stock of both,” says another.
This is a common complaint everywhere.
The freedom to spend stands severely curtailed; and it has begun hurting the everyday activities of people. The neighbourhood grocer says he cannot give away notes of those denominations because he is not sure how long the cash problem will continue. Moreover, he has to pay with such cash for certain items he stores.
Older people, particularly pensioners, are a worried lot. The banks won’t pay them the whole amount deposited in their zero-balance accounts. They have resorted to rationing to meet the cash shortage and make it available to as many people as possible. The pensioners thus have to come back again and again and suffer the long wait to get money. A gentleman, around 80 years old, does not look happy about the prospect of coming back to the bank repeatedly. “Beta, pension ke liye wait karte-karte jaan na nikal jaye (I hope I don’t die waiting for my pension).” Why can't there be separate arrangements for old people like him, he asked. Two of his friends concur.
The jury is still out on whether demonetisation was such a great move, but there appears little disagreement among the public that its execution has been shoddy. The government may have its explanation for the delay in the arrival of fresh cash, but there are not many takers for it now. The mood might get worse in the coming days as routine payments are disturbed and services are hit everyday, as a result.
There’s a lesson for the government in this: It should be extremely careful about dramatic moves that have potential for causing distress to the public. If the benefits of the move don’t far exceed the loss due to the disruption to normalcy caused by it, then there’s little point in pursuing it. One wishes the government had gone ahead with the cashless transaction drive with some caution and a solid Plan B in place.