Vegetable sellers, petty traders, autowallas continue to suffer with little hope of recovery after their businesses shrunk by nearly a half after demonetisation.
Rishi Muni, a vegetable vendor of Paschim Vihar, Delhi, is standing near his hand-cart. When asked about his business he says that it is very slow. When questioned more specifically about the impact of notebandi (demonetisation) he says that his income is now 25% of what it was before notebandi. He has two sons both of whom were employed, but post demonetisation, one of them has lost his job. Hence the overall family income has shrunk, forcing the slum-dwelling family to cut essential expenses. When asked about future prospects, Muni says that he does not see any immediate prospects of the situation improving.
Harinath, another vegetable vendor joins the discussion and says that his income has been reduced by about 50%. Balkishan – a very popular vendor who sets up shop in different areas on different days – says he has very committed customers, but still his income declined and he faced numerous problems after demonetisation. But his biggest problem is not his own work – his two sons used to regularly get petty contracts in glasswork, but they stopped getting them after November 8. Hence, the overall family income declined much more than his own income.
A little distance away from these vendors, two autorickshaw drivers are waiting for customers. Parveen Katar says that his family is facing a difficult time – he is the sole earning member and his earnings now are only 30% of what it used to be. This morning, he had been waiting for four hours without getting any passengers. After paying the daily rental for the auto rickshaw very little is left for his family’s subsistence. Vegetables are now cooked only once in 3 days, he said. Despite making heavy cuts, he was forced to take loans from private moneylenders at very high interest rates (10% per month).
Jalal Kathaat, another auto-rickshaw driver said that business is down by 50% compared to pre-demonetised times. He could not pay the instalment for his auto-rickshaw loan this month. He had a lot of difficulty paying fees for his school-going children, as a consequence of which the children were humiliated. Finally when the teacher threatened to debar the children from sitting for their exams did he arrange to pay the fees – but in the process he too was compelled to take a loan at a high interest rate.
Roshan, who works in a garments shop in Patel Nagar says that business at his shop is down by 30 to 40%. Although normally, they expect sales to increase significantly during this month as they sell woollens as well, he says that he does not see any signs of business picking up in the near future.
At a short distance two fruit sellers, Sanjay and Yusuf are sipping cups of tea. “We have very few customers these days,” says Yusuf. Sanjay says that business is down by 50%. He explains that with the cash crunch, people are busy ensuring just their daal-roti or staple food and so, are likely to spend much less on fruits.
Pannalal Sharma, a fruit vendor of Meera Bagh, agrees. He says that his business is down to just 40% of what it was and he sees no signs of recovery in the near future. Pannalal maintains close links with his village in the Allahabad district. He says the real problem now is that there is distress in the village as well in the city. Some workers from Delhi are going back to their village but things are bad there too.
Thakurdas, a mason from the same area, has similar complaints. Thakurdas says that on the one hand, his income, as well as the income of his two working sons, has come down by about 40% because of notebandi. On the other hand, planting the rabi crop has been delayed in his village in the Mahoba district and so the yield of the crop will also come down and it will be further exposed to the vagaries of weather. So while they have many problems here, the situation in the village may be even worse, he says.
Sanjay Nindra, who has a small dry-cleaning business says that his shop should be getting more work these days, but actually his business has declined. Still, he says, his condition is better than some others whose business has almost collapsed. His neighbour Madan Behal, who has a small-scale real estate business says that his business is now at 0%. Others close to him confirm that he has not conducted any business at all in recent weeks after demonetisation.
However Rajesh, a sweet and snack seller in the busy Jwala Heri market says that he has recovered by a significant extent. Soon after demonetisation his business had declined by about 50% but now it is just about 10 to 20%. Despite his relative recovery, he says that he is very upset with demonetisation. “Please understand,” he says, “it is not a question of my personal loss which troubles me. I am prepared to accept a much bigger loss if the country benefits. In fact, soon after notebandi was announced I celebrated with my friends because I thought that this is good for the country. But then my fellow shopkeepers dealing in clothes and shoes and other such commodities started telling me that sales soon after demonetisation was down to 10%. I saw people losing their livelihoods. I also noticed that the claims about a really significant attack on corruption and black money were not true. This is why, although my personal business has recovered, I am nevertheless, critical of notebandi.”
Kuldeep Kulshreshtha, a printer based in Nangloi, is another person who was initially very enthusiastic about demonetisation but his admiration soon turned into anger when he saw the endless queues at banks for several days. He says, “Although I did not lose much on a personal level, when I saw many workers losing their livelihoods – perhaps permanently – and some small entrepreneurs on the verge of shutting down, but no significant action being taken against the most corrupt people or against the well-entrenched system based on corruption, then I said to myself, why inflict so many problems on people without any real hope of gains for the country. This is how from a supporter I turned into a critic of demonetisation.”
Bharat Dogra is a free-lance journalist who has been involved with several social movements and initiatives.