Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to demonetise Rs 500 and 1,000 currency notes has not done much to check the funding of the militants, but has lead to worst business losses across Jammu and Kashmir. People are struggling to pay for medicines because they cannot exchange the old notes as the banks are shut.
Separatists have called for a shutdown and majority of banks are closed due to that. The decision of the government to scrap Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes has hit the traders who had already been facing losses due to the ongoing unrest. Unlike the rush which was witnessed during the relaxation time earlier, the buzz is now missing in the markets in Srinagar. Patients have complained that the pharmaceutical companies and chemists are not taking the old currency notes due to which their treatment has been severely affected.
Fayaz Ahmad Bakshi, owner of the Shangrilla, an A-category hotel, said that the decision of the Government of India (GoI) to scrap the old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes put him through an ordeal. "I couldn’t even go and visit the dentist and buy medicines. It is a terrible time. Even my friend couldn’t fill the tank in his vehicle as the pumps remain closed and are not accepting the old notes. He had to travel some 20 kilometres from Soura to Bemina to locate a petrol pump, but there was no petrol at the pump. He was livid," he said.
A top police official said that the demonetisation has not served the purpose of cutting any support to the militants here. "We have not come across any of the cases of seizure of hawala money after the decision to scrap the currency notes was announced. We have not found any discarded notes," he added. In a recent meeting however the Director General of Police, K Rajendra, has asked the police officials to keep a close watch on the "people who are masking hawala money by converting large cash hoards into formal books of accounts."
Director General of police (DGP), Law and Order, Dr S P Vaid, however, said that the police is keeping a close tab on transactions. "We are keeping a close watch on the separatists here after the the government scrapped the notes," he said. The demonetisation, however, has affected the business. President of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), Mushtaq Ahmad Wani, said that the impact of the demonetisation was widespread. "There is no business during the shutdown here. The shops remain shut during the day due to the strike call given by the Hurriyat conference and would open during the relaxation time in the evening, But after the demonetisation decision there is no business in the market even in relaxation time. The day to day spending has taken a worst hit. There is no business for the relaxation period as the currency is not available now," he said.
Assistant professor of medicine at the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital (SMHS), Dr Nisarul Hassan, said that the patients are "compromising on medication due to the non-availability of currency notes."
"The patients have complained that the chemists are not accepting the old currency notes. The situation is grave here. Patients are not able to buy the medicines and equipments from the market and as all the medicines are’nt available in the government hospitals their medication is getting compromised."
The situation in Kashmir remains particularly bad as not many banks have remained open due to the ongoing shutdown. The skeletal number of branches have, however, seen long queues of people exchanging the currency notes and non availability of cash at ATMs have compounded to the miseries of people. Head Corporate Communications, Jammu and Kashmir bank, Sajad Bazaz, however, said that the bank has made "all infrastructure and manpower available at its branches to ensure that the people don’t face any problems." The Jammu and Kashmir bank is a market leader in terms of the number of branches that exist in state. It runs over 800 branches in the state which is 65 percent of the market share here.
A top bank official however said that the situation could become much worse in the days as the demand for cash increases. "With demonetisation, 86 percent of the currency notes have become invalid, the demand for the new notes will only increase," he said.
By suspending mobile internet services in the states, citizens are not able to make online transactions and pay utility bills. However, Bazaz said that the bank has designated many branches where the people can pay their electricity bills. He said that the footfall in many of the bank branches has increased after the government decision to take out the old currency notes from the market.