On a foggy December morning, 35-year-old Aftab Ali, who drives battery-operated rickshaws for a living, was waiting for customers. School children whizzed past by in car pools on Jamia Nagar’s congested roads. Battling the fog and chilly gusts of wind, people walked towards their early morning destinations. Almost nobody glanced at Aftab and his ‘e-rickshaw.’ “Business has gone down for us in the past one month,” he said grudgingly. “It’s slashed by almost half.”
Aftab said fewer people were taking e-rickshaws since the government’s decision to demonetise high-value currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 on the midnight of November 8. The justification for the move was to flush out black money from the economy, slash at the root of terrorist funding from fake currency and above all to end widespread corruption in the country.
The move sent people into a frenzy and led to long queues outside banks and ATMs to withdraw or exchange cash. Though the government kept issuing updated circulars to lessen the inconvenience, the after-effects of demonetisation have spilled over to the unlikeliest of corners — including in professions where people do not even deal in higher denomination notes. Aftab rued that people started paying in higher denomination notes which were useless for him.
Twenty-year-old Jamir Ali has been driving e-rickshaw since the past couple of months. “I don’t have much savings. I have to pay Rs 2,000 as rent every month. Every day, I have to pay around Rs 300 to the owner. I hardly earn Rs 200-300 per day. I cannot even send money back home. My family business is also not doing well,” he said.
Unlike Jamir, Aftab has been a driver for more than a decade now. In search of better employment prospects, he had moved to Delhi from Bihar 23 years ago. “Since we work on dihari (daily wage) basis, we have to pay a sum of amount to the owners. After that, there is very little left for us. We have a family here. It has become difficult to earn as much as we were earning a month ago.”
Despite the acute cash crunch, Aftab had to miss work for a couple of days and get in the queue to get his currency exchanged and withdraw cash.
“What to do? I needed the money to feed my family. There was no option,” he said. His customers now mostly pay him in smaller denominations of Rs 100, 50, 20, 10. “I only go to the bank if I need large amount of cash for some urgency,” he said. However, since people have cut down on their own expenses, Aftab has fewer passengers.
“We have even dropped off certain passengers for free because neither of us had change,” said Mohammed Shoaib, another e-rickshaw driver in Batla House.
The public has no choice either. 40-year-old Momina Khatoon, a housewife, is among those who have begun to think economically to cut down on spending.
“Earlier, I used to go to the Batla House more frequently. But after notebandi, I just went twice and bought things in bulk. Many of my relatives and acquaintances walk to the market to save the little money they can because we aren’t even sure if the ATMs will have enough money the next time we queue up.”
While the government has pegged the demonetisation move to ‘national interest’ and exuded confidence of retaining public support, the common man on the street has been facing difficulties.
“Other drivers too complain of lesser work. The government’s decision has just caused us difficulties,” said Aftab.