Hassalgaon is a village about 50 km away from the headquarters of Latur district of Maharashtra. The people of this village have to travel 28 km to the nearest bank in Killari village and the public transport facility is very meager. Since the year 2002 a NGO called Ashishdara Service Society has been organizing women of this village and the neighbouring villages through Self Help Groups (SHGs) and Village Level Federation of SHGs. There are only two ATMs in the 24 villages where the NGO is working. Those leaders who sit in Delhi and give sermon on cashless economy have to first search and verify how many of the 6,40,000 villages of India have the infrastructure facilities for implementing cashless transactions.
On December 18, I had the opportunity to meet and interact with 60 women of the Village Level Federation of SHGs of Hassalgaon village. I also met 70 women leaders of Village Level Federations of SHGs of 24 villages the next day. The women were angry at PM Narendra Modi for the way demonetization of 500 and 1000 rupee notes is being implemented. They were asking the question, “Why did not the government print small denomination notes in sufficient quantity before announcing the ban of high value notes?” “2000 rupee note is not of any use to us”, they added. They pointed out that possession of crores of rupees in new 2000 rupee notes by certain individuals prove that note ban cannot stop the accumulation of black money. During the discussion they frequently used the phrase, “Tell Modiji…” That is why this write up is titled as ‘Modiji, please listen to the people’.
Even though the PM is aware of the ordeal the ordinary people undergo as result of the note ban, he is not ready to accept the flaws in the implementation and the failure of the government to alleviate their suffering. He and his party men continue to propagate through the Mass media that note ban is causing only temporary inconvenience. If the Prime Minister sends the officers like district collectors and tehsildars to interact with the ordinary people like daily wage workers, small and marginal farmers and all those who are involved in the informal sector of the economy and listen to the litany of their woes due to note ban, he may get a glimpse of the havoc created by the surgical strike on the 500 and 1000 rupee notes. By listening to the ordinary people the PM and his advisers will not only come to know the extent of the damage caused but also practical suggestions emerging from the wisdom of the common people.
During the interaction with members of the Self Help Groups many women shared the stories of their agonies. Sangeeta Sitaphulle Bai of Gautami SHG of Hassalgaon village had borrowed on 7th November Rs. 20,000/- for the operation of his son. The next day the government declared illegal 500 and 1000 rupee notes. She deposited the amount in her bank account. She had to go to bank 8 times to withdraw her money. She had to spend Rs. 480/- as bus fare, besides losing work for 8 days. Her total loss is Rs. 1680 (Rs. 1200 remuneration for work+ Rs. 480 bus fare) besides delaying the operation of her son. Does the government include in the cost of demonetization the heavy loss to persons like Sangeeta Sitaphulle? Are the ordeals faced by her only inconvenience?
Husband of a woman who participated in the discussion is a driver in an NGO. After demonetization he got his salary by cheque. He deposited the money in a bank 28 km. away from the village Hassalgaon. He had to go four times to the bank, spending Rs. 240/- as travel fare in order to withdraw his salary. Bus fare to one side is Rs. 30/-. Is this only an inconvenience?
Two Self Help Groups (Saraswati and Gyaneswari) had taken contract for harvesting soybean for Rs. 50,000/-. They have not received remuneration even after one month. Many small and marginal farmers have sold their soybean, but they have not received money for their produce. Many women have worked for daily wage, but they have not got their wages. Now the farmers are not engaging labourers for any work, as they do not have money to pay.
People have to stand in queue for hours and they can withdraw only 2000 rupees per week from the District Cooperative Bank. But often the bank does not have money even to give Rs. 2000/- to all those who stand in the queue.
When the participants were asked to give their suggestions to overcome the crisis caused by cash crunch they put forward many creative proposals. The suggestion made by one woman makes a lot of sense. She said that the government has to provide people on credit the essential items like rice, wheat, sugar, kerosene etc. under the Public Distribution System (PDS) till normalcy is restored in the functioning of the banks and supply of cash becomes normal. “Our money is pending with the employer and some of our money is deposited in the bank. Because of the policy of the government we are not able to use our money and government is responsible for this situation. Hence the government has to provide us the essential items on credit.”
The poorest are the most affected by the note ban. According to a survey of 110 companies in 32 districts in Madhya Pradesh conducted by Nai Duniya newspaper, 28% of labourers in M.P have become unemployed after the announcement of the ban of rupees 500 and 1000 notes. As per the survey result published on December 22, in small companies 65% workers lost job whereas the job loss in medium and big companies is 25% and 20% respectively. In Burhanpur town of M.P 15,000 power looms are closed.
Chandrababu Naidu, who initially wholeheartedly supported demonetization, appears to be becoming disillusioned. "Demonetization was not our wish but it happened. More than 40 days after demonetization, there are still a lot of problems but yet there appears to be no solution," Chandrababu said addressing a workshop of Telugu Desam MPs, MLCs, MLAs and other leaders on December 20. "It still remains a sensitive and complicated problem," Chandrababu who heads the 13-member central committee to look into demonetization issues observed.
While taking crucial decisions affecting the lives of the people the leaders have to remember the example of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation. When Gandhiji returned from South Africa after long absence of 22 years from India, Gopala Krishna Gokhale advised him to travel around the country and learn about the people of India. Gandhiji travelled in an ordinary train compartment throughout the country and observed the life situation of the people on the way; he met the farmers, workers, labourers and listened to them. When a farmer visited him and narrated to him the woes of the indigo cultivating farmers in Champaran in Bihar Gandhiji immediately went to see and assess the situation of the farmers. Gandhiji evolved his vision for India based on his experiences with the people of India. Unfortunately, our elected leaders have no time to meet the ordinary people. Even when they come to visit their constituencies they are surrounded by the security personnel and their sycophants. Applications from the people are collected by one of the aids of the leader. Those applications may be put into the dustbins without being read by anybody.
Gandhiji had given a talisman to the leaders of his time. “I will give you a talisman, whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man (woman) whom you have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him (her)? Will he (she) gain anything by it? Will it restore him (her) to a control over his (her) own life and destiny? In other words will it lead to swaraj (freedom) for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?
If PM Modi and his advisors had followed the talisman of Gandhiji they would not have resorted to the disaster of note ban. The political leaders of today, especially PM Modi and his advisors, think in terms of GDP growth, increased FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) and making India a military power etc. They do not think of the fate of the 50% of the population of this country. As a result the inequality in the country is skyrocketing. India has become the second unequal country in the world after Russia according to Global Wealth Report 2016 compiled by Credit Suisse Research Institute.
The opposition parties, especially the Congress, shouting in the parliament and causing the complete washout of the winter session of the parliament, have not provided any relief to the ordinary people.
Rahul Gandhi, instead of highlighting the woes of the people due to demonetization, is making allegations of corruption against Prime Minister, which the Supreme Court has already rejected as baseless, and is making himself a laughing stock before the people. He should have gone to the people, listened to their agonizing stories and highlighted them by organizing meetings in the towns and villages. Through this process he could have educated the ordinary people who are brainwashed by the propaganda machinery of the Modi fans.
The fact that people elected a political party with absolute majority in the Lokh Sabha does not mean that the government can play with the lives of the people. Before taking vital decisions affecting the lives of the people, the PM and his advisors have to listen to the people. Even after taking a wrong decision with the purported good intention, the PM must be humble enough to accept the mistake and take immediate corrective measures instead of going on justifying the erroneous step and changing the goal posts.
Making India cashless was not an objective of demonetization of 500 and 1000 notes when the PM made the announcement on November 8. The three main objectives were flushing out black money, preventing counterfeit notes and stopping terrorist funding.
The PM has the responsibility to present before the people with proof how far these objectives could be achieved against the economic loss and suffering to the people through an objective cost benefit analysis. Political rhetoric and cooked up data cannot substitute facts.(Published on 02nd January 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 1)#