One month of demonetisation; no signs of ease

The 8th of November 2016 will go down in India’s history as the date marking the demonetisation of the old currency notes of Rs 500 and the Rs 1000 value. The announcement by PM Narendra Modi beginning with “mere pyaare bhaiyon aur behno” sent shock waves through the country and created an upheaval of a myriad of emotions in countrymen, consternation, elation, a surging of hope, fear, doubts, anger, frustration and distress.

And now even after a month has passed, after demonetisation there is no escape to this ordeal. The country is cash-strapped. People are queuing up in banks, ATMs only to realise that even those are out of cash. India officially, it’s people, and the government have marched right into an unknown territory and no one can predict how things are going to play out from here on.

For all intents and purposes the aim of the drive was to be seen as a genuine attempt to root out black money into the open. Hailed by fans of Modi as a brave and courageous move for the improvement of the nation and decried by critics as an unnecessary, useless and a self damning move, there is no doubt that the reactions to the move have been strong on both sides.

It’s been exactly one month now. So far till now there has hardly been any great collection of the hoards of black money in circulation. Apart from creating chaos in the country and hardships to millions of hard working, honest people, the drive does not seem to have attained much. The conniving Indian mind has come up with other clever ideas to launder dirty money. The numbers of Jan Dhan accounts recently credited with money which has thereafter been encashed is a case in point. And there have been other similar cases.

The money that is stashed away in the Swiss banks is still very much safe and snug where it is. Benaami property and gold are still sitting pretty even as the Aam Janta stands endlessly in long queues only to be told after hours of waiting that there is no more cash in the bank.

Was there any point in the whole exercise apart from creating a disturbance in the life of people whose livelihood depends on daily labor and transactions? These are the people who have been most affected. It is these people who notwithstanding the difficulties have still welcomed and hailed the move in the hope that it will weed out black currency and corruption and will make life better for after more. These are the people who have deified Modi as the leader who will solve all their problems. They have stood in long queues because they have been told that soldiers stand for hours facing danger at the border. They are the ones who believe that they were being patriotic and are serving the country in their own small way.

But the ensuing chaos has gone well beyond mere temporary inconvenience. There has been personal hardship and even deaths among the worst affected. There has been total disruption in lives and livelihoods in certain sectors. Farmers have been caught midway between harvesting and sowing seasons leaving them neither here nor there.

The government’s woefully inadequate preparation and complete failure to anticipate the impact of the move has unleashed havoc in the country that conducts nearly 90 per cent of its transactions in cash. It has not only meant a great deal of avoidable distress for the mass of the people but also a devastation of the economy in the short and medium terms. The advice to ordinary people to go digital where banking and internet services are not available is insensitive and impractical.

There has been inordinate strain on the capacity of the banking sector and with loss of daily wages, work, the cost of printing new notes etc, a huge collateral damage.

But will things improve? Economists say they have no way of knowing what the outcome of the whole exercise will be because such a drastic step has never been attempted before. Some predict success and some otherwise. It is only in the working out of this initiative that we will know what the consequences of this whole exercise will have in the long run.

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