With little hope for normalcy even 100 days after the note ban, there is an urgent need for providing relief and compensation to those who have been most affected.
This is the second in a two-part series of reports on the impact of demonetisation. Read the first part here.
About a decade ago, several workers living in Paschim Vihar in West Delhi were evicted and sent to the area around Bawana village in outer Delhi. Here, without the benefit of any proper settlement or government help, they constructed huts and planted a few trees to create a new hut colony in front of the K and L blocks of Bawana JJ Colony. Many of them are originally from Bundelkhand, UP.
For these people, who mostly work in the construction sector and who have been denied water and sanitation facilities, and access to the public distribution system, demonetisation has created huge disruptions in their already fragile and uncertain lives.
In recent years, the sole respite was the availability of employment in a huge complex of low-income flats that is being constructed near their huts. However, after the note ban, this work has halted. Recently, some work was revived, but still, the employment opportunities are fewer than before. There have also been more delays in payments.
Wages in industries located nearby are even lower. In a costly city like Delhi, the workers, particularly women, are paid only Rs 150 per day after toiling for about eight hours.
Even this kind of exploitative work was hard to come by after demonetisation as several factories were shut down. Many people say that they have been at their wits’ end trying to figure out how to survive in these difficult times. Their coping abilities have been further impacted by the fact that none of the families in this colony have access to cheaper food under the public distribution system. In fact, after their eviction, they have been excluded from almost all of the welfare-oriented programmes of the government.
On the other hand, those who resettled in the G and H blocks of Bawana JJ Colony have proper documentation, which means they also have ration cards and some access to benefits like pensions. However, they also continue to face problems of sanitation and water shortage, and the plots allotted to them are very small.
Umesh Singh, a mason, said, “Construction workers like me faced a very serious crisis as almost no work was available. Then gradually we started getting some work but even now our employment and income levels are much below the levels prevailing before notebandi.”
Sarvesh Kumar, who is a small tea stall owner, said, “Soon after notebandi my sales suddenly fell to very low levels as the working class people who are my customers did not have the cash to buy even a cup of tea. Sales still remain low compared to the times before notebandi.”
Muhammad Muzim, a construction worker, added, “We have so many problems even in normal times but after notebandi, the problems really increased a lot.”
While the men of this colony are mainly construction workers, the women, apart from working in construction, also work as domestic help and industrial workers. Putlibai said that there were more delays and uncertainties in payment for industrial work. Gyanwati said that even the payments of domestic workers were delayed after the note ban.
Rampiari, an elderly woman, said, “It became so difficult to run the household on reduced earnings. Vegetables were reduced and made watery. We women always save something for difficult times. But as Rs 500 notes were cancelled, we had to take out these notes for depositing in the bank. So now this meagre social security is also not available to us to meet any sudden expense or emergency.”
A key question that arises is whether normalcy can return anytime soon. Anirudh Mandal, a mason, said, “My own earnings, which declined after notebandi, have not returned to normal yet. In fact, I see hardly any signs of normal conditions returning soon. All the indications that one sees around are that these difficulties will continue for some time.”
In the current scenario, there is a strong case for providing special relief and help to the workers impacted by demonetisation. In the recently announced budget for West Bengal, such a payment of Rs 50,000 has been sanctioned for some sections of affected workers. A relief payment for some affected farmers has also been provided. Earlier, the Uttar Pradesh government had announced relief and compensatory payment to families in which demonetisation-related deaths had taken place.
Subhash Bhatnagar, the founder and co-ordinator of Nirmana, an organisation working for construction workers, said that the workers have been badly impacted by the note ban and there is a strong case for providing special relief and compensation to them.
Several weaker sections of the society that continue to bear the brunt of demonetisation are also in urgent need of special help, relief and compensation.
Bharat Dogra is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements and initiatives.