When banks reopened on 10 November after a day’s shutdown, following the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes by the Modi government on 8 November, the crowds thronging them were a forbearing lot. It was for a good cause they said – enabling a freeze of counterfeit currency and black money – while waiting for their turn to swap, deposit or withdraw money.
But that public sentiment is now fading. The middle class’ positivity around the demonetisation has all but evaporated for a simple reason – its inefficient implementation. They had collectively exulted in the fact that all bad money was being rendered useless, and that they would benefit from the demonetisation over time. But just a day later, a feeling of despondency took over as the realisation dawned that the common man was the real victim.
To make matters worse, they heard on the grapevine that the so called black money hoarding ‘big fish’ were in fact already making plans to convert their stash into white, thus legitimising the illegal. Then the analysts began to say that most, if not all, of the black money was either salted away in benami properties or stashed in tax havens overseas.
Reports of touts buying the demonetised Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes at a discounted price, to enable black money holders to convert their money into white by December-end, only added to the ire. The plan to curb black money was clearly going awry, if not haywire. Then why conduct such an elaborate exercise at all?
Why should the common man be penalised; forced to stand in long queues to attain the new, crisp currency notes? Especially, since they cannot even spend it, as most stores/outlets have already run out of the smaller denominations needed for change. Even the ATMs have not been stocked with Rs 100 notes, despite the repeated promises by the government.
The common man was pushed into a vortex of confusion and anger. “Why us?” has been the common refrain. The frequent assertions by the Finance Ministry that there wasn’t any reason to worry as there was enough cash, did not find much traction either. As merely printing cash is not the same as putting cash into people's wallets.
The system, unlike the banks, is not overburdened with the mad rush to attain the new currency. Inefficacies on their end cannot be tied up with the banks’ problems. If the government is unable to supply money to the banks because of a botched operation, then their promise to restore the cash flow is clearly notional.
The banks have been working overtime, including on a second Saturday and a Sunday. The fact that Monday was a public holiday has become another irritant.
Visiting ATMs has not been a pleasant experience either. After standing in long queues, the public has to face the same sorry realisation – that most were not functioning for want of cash refills or were not recalibrated. And the ones that were functioning ran out of cash soon enough.
It is hard to console a person who is left with no money in his/her wallet, as even if it is not spent immediately, it provides for a sense of confidence.
The poor are now being hunted by the so-called elite, as their empty bank accounts work perfectly as a money laundering system – their zero-balance accounts are loaded with Rs 2.5 lakhs and then withdrawn for a commission. Their Rs 500 notes are being traded for as little as Rs 300 to Rs 400. This then leads to a pertinent queston: Why should the poor pay the price to divest the rich of their dirty wealth?