Small Entrepreneurs, Workers in Saharanpur Lose Livelihoods and Hope After Demonetisation

Many have lost their job and even those who continue to work are facing a major demand crunch – leading to widespread pessimism about when things will get better.

A woodwork workshop in Saharanpur city

A woodwork workshop in Saharanpur city

This is the third in a three-part series of reports on the impact of demonetisation on farmers, workers, artisans, small entrepreneurs and traders in Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur district. Read the first part here and the second part here

Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh: The serious impacts of demonetisation on the common people, especially those outside of metropolitan centres, has been reported several times over the last month. In Saharanpur, there is now increasing reflection and discussion on whether a recovery is possible in the near future and how this can be facilitated.

The most anxious about future prospects are those who have lost their livelihoods completely. Rakesh Sharma from Chilkana village, for instance, has not been able to get even a single day’s work in his chain-making workshop after notebandi as the supply lines have broken. Mahendra Singh, a plywood factory worker from the same village, has also not received a single day’s work in the factory post demonetisation. Aaftaab, an embroidery craft worker, said that he has been completely without work for a month now. Numerous workers in the wood carving, hosiery, garments, second-hand goods and recycling industries employed in Saharanpur city have been asked to stay in their villages till possibilities of employment emerge again. Those who have completely lost their previous jobs are the worst affected, as avenues of alternative work like farm work, construction work and vending are also much less now due to the cash crunch.

Even for those workers and entrepreneurs who appear to be working as before, business has come down significantly. Shubham, a shopkeeper at a grocery store in Chilkana, says that his daily business is down to 20% of what it was in the pre-demonetisation days. Shugun, a young entrepreneur in the used tyres trade in Saharanpur city, says that business is down to 10-15% of what it was before.

I had a group discussion with representatives of used cars workers, used tyre workers, iron scrap workers and others, and they all said that business was down to 25% or less of what is was after demonetisation.

When asked about his sales, Gulzar, a fruit seller, said that earlier there were about 15 handcart vendors selling fruit with him and now there are just four, and even their sales are less than half of what they were. The others confirmed this. “When people are struggling to eat just their roti, who will buy fruit?” he asked. Empty stalls of fruit and fruit juice sellers were visible in the area.

Workers in Saharanpur city

Workers in Saharanpur city

Nazeer, a tailor, said that business is down to 25% of pre-notebandi days as people are postponing or cancelling such expenses. For wool hosiery worker Mansoor Ahmed, this is normally the peak season but this year work has reduced to 25% of pre-demonetisation days.

Most of these workers and entrepreneurs are pessimistic about chances of a speedy recovery in the near future, as the position of cash availability in banks has become even more chaotic in recent times instead of improving and there are widespread complaints of small entrepreneurs facing injustice, while the cash needs of the rich are met.

Such complaints were voiced even by farmers in villages. As farmers have low margins in any case and yields from the rabi crop is likely to be adversely affected by late sowing due to the cash crunch, problems of farmers will linger into the longer term. This is also because of the loans they have to take these days because of the cash crunch and the long hours they have to spend in bank queues, leaving less time for farm work.

When farmers, workers, artisans, small entrepreneurs, small traders, vendors and shopkeepers are all facing serious economic problems at the same time, the risk of getting sucked into longer term economic downturn certainly exists – leading many to feel pessimistic.

Both the government and people can and should contribute to checking this pessimism and downturn. The government should admit clearly and openly that a serious mistake has been made. It should seek the forgiveness of the people and seek their cooperation in carefully working out a corrective plan that should be implemented in an honest and transparent way. While people are waiting for such corrective action by the government, they should strive to increase unity, solidarity and cooperation as much as possible so that those in most difficult situations can get at least some help.

 Bharat Dogra is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements.