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Already reeling under an economic blockade on supply lines, imposed by the United Naga Council from November 1, the Centre’s move to scrap Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes has brought trading at Khwairamband bazaar, fondly called ‘Ima Keithel’, to near-minimal.
What has made the situation more skewed is that banks have primarily issued Rs 2,000 notes since they reopened after the demonetisation announcement on November 8. And these notes are hardly welcomed with enthusiasm at Khwairamband, India’s largest all-women market where all shops are owned and operated by women.
“Is this real currency? Will this get banned too?” asked Manitombi, 66, as she showed the only currency she possesses as of now – the new pink note. That’s one question heard often in the market. Scarcity of notes of lower denomination has left hawkers and shop owners with hardly any change to pay back customers walking in with the new Rs 2000 note.
Manitombi, who sells bamboo and reed items, said she is struggling not just with customers bringing the now-scrapped Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes, but also those coming with Rs 2000 note. “I am losing business. I have been accepting them (scrapped big notes) but artisans from whom I buy are refusing to accept either demonetised notes or the new Rs 2,000 note,” she said. “Like me, they are also sceptical whether it is genuine.”
Normally buzzing with customers, the market, now attending to fewer people, is abuzz with rumours about the new Rs 2000 note. “I saw a woman refuse the new note. She told the customer that it’s fake,” said Jadunath Giri, originally from Gopalganj in Bihar who has been working as a porter in the market for nearly four decades. Giri said his daily wage of Rs 400 is now down to Rs 100.
Admitting a “shortage”, S Kaikhanthang, chief manager (administration) at SBI’s regional business office here, said, “We understand there is shortage of 100-rupee notes, as most ATMs are giving out the new Rs 2000, we are expecting another consignment soon and will be able to resolve the problem.”
Kaikhanthang said Manipur has received Rs 328 crore since demonetisation was implemented, of which only Rs 8 crore was in 100-rupee notes. “So far we have managed to recalibrate 98 ATMs in in the district (Imphal), and they are now able to dispense the new currency notes,” he said.
But for now, the struggle with change continues at Khwairamband. “People come to buy 1 kg tomatoes with a 2000-rupee note. I have to turn them away…I’m also running out of vegetables to sell due to the economic blockade,” said Sh. Noyonsakhi.
Many hawkers are exchanging scrapped Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes at a loss of 20 per cent from illegal money traders, who operated from one corner of the market till Wednesday, when a raid by the police and various enforcement agencies removed them. Sh. Lakhmi Devi, 65, however, said, “I cannot afford to exchange an old Rs 500 note for Rs 400. I’m a small fish seller, I don’t make much. Only the rich can afford it.”
The corner where the illegal money traders sat was instead crowded by anxious customers, looking to exchange old notes.