Rs 2.5 lakh. That’s what the government said he could take, a one-time withdrawal “from the accounts of the father or mother, or bride or groom”. So after all those nights that Mohan Lal, a 51-year-old cobbler in Chandigarh, spent looking up at the unplastered roof of his house at Valmiki Colony in Sector 25 — dreams of a “grand wedding” for his first-born racing through his head — he will have to do his calculations all over again. The budget he had arrived at earlier — Rs 4 lakh, borrowed from friends and relatives, most of it in currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 — is now way off the mark.
The government’s sudden demonetisation announcement came at the start of the wedding season, leaving many families such as Lal’s stranded. Renu, 25, the eldest of his seven children, is to marry a Delhi-based “small shopkeeper” on December 14. Lal says there is lots left to do — shopping for utensils, gifts for the groom’s parents and relatives, clothes and ornaments for the bride, booking the wedding hall and the caterer.
“On November 8, I had just reached home when I heard the Prime Minister making his announcement and saying these notes were banned. I thought I would have a heart attack. We could not sleep the whole night. Our neighbours came to sympathise with us. I even considered calling up my son-in-law and telling him that I would not be able to organise the wedding,” says Lal.
The next day, someone advised him to go to the bank and open an account. “That’s when I remembered that my wife and I had two accounts in Bank of Baroda, Sector 17, which we had never operated,” he says. He spent the next two days making rounds of the bank, pleading with the bank manager to help him. “I spent several hours waiting in the bank. Finally, when I told the madam at the bank my plight, she told me not to worry and to exchange some money and deposit the rest,” says Lal.
So the next day, Lal and his family decided to queue up. “I got all my seven children (four daughters and three sons) to stand in queues and got them to exchange Rs 4,000 each using their Aadhaar cards. It was a mad rush. They stood in the queues for over 3 hours and got Rs 28,000 in new notes,” he says.
For the next eight days, including on a Sunday, Lal and his wife Nisha stood in queues at the Bank of Baroda in Sector 17, where they both have savings accounts, and deposited Rs 49,000 each every day, till they deposited Rs 4 lakh in cash. Mohan Lal doesn’t have a PAN card and he was advised by the bank not to deposit all his money at once.
Now, he says, he and his wife have been going to the bank every day to withdraw Rs 2,500 each. “The officials in the bank told us we can’t get more than this as there were many others waiting for cash,” says Lal, adding that he had to skip work for a week. “I hardly earn Rs 150 to 200 a day. What will a poor man eat if he doesn’t work?” “Before the notes were banned, we bought utensils for my daughter… We spent around Rs 40,000,” says Lal. “But most of our shopping is still pending. The bank manager promised to give us Rs 10,000 in cash from Monday. But when I went on Wednesday and Thursday, the madam said there was no cash. Every day, I wake up hoping they will give me some money.” The government has asked banks to allow withdrawals of up to Rs 2.5 lakh to a member of a family that has a wedding scheduled in the coming days. But many banks are unclear about the verification process. So while the maximum cash that can be withdrawn from banks is Rs 24,000, Lal says the bank told him he could only withdraw Rs 10,000 because of the rush.
He says someone told him taking a wedding card to the bank would help, so he took a sample card to the bank. “The cards are still not ready. I gave the Rs 1,000 that I had to the cardwallah but the cards won’t be ready till I pay him another Rs 2,200.” Lal’s daughter Renu, who works as a housekeeper at a local spa and earns Rs 8,000 a month, says she used up all her savings to buy silver jewellery for Rs 20,000. “I bought a chain, a set of bangles and a pair of trinkets. My employer had promised to help me with some money but he has now refused. He said he now has no cash to run his own house,” says Renu.
Sitting on the bed that takes up almost all the space in the one-room house, Mohan Lal says, “It’s not easy for a poor man to get his daughter married. The ban on notes has worsened our situation. Mera mann kehta hai ki apni beti ko bolun ki isse achcha bhaag ke court marriage kar leti (I sometimes feel like telling my daughter that she should have eloped and just got her marriage registered in court). Time is running out. The functions start from December 10,” says Lal.
The wedding is to be held at the Valmiki temple in Chandigarh’s Sector 24. “I have to pay Rs 5,000 to book the hall and pandit… What if somebody else takes it?” he says. Huddled on the bed with the rest of the family, Lal’s wife Nisha says, “We have to buy clothes for Renu and her in-laws. Also, a refrigerator, a TV and a bed set. We need at least Rs 3 lakh in hand. I don’t know if we will ever get that kind of money. Hamare paas ameer logon ki tarah cards nahin hain. Gareeb ko koi udhar bhi nahin deta (We have no cards like the rich; a poor man doesn’t get anything on credit).”
Renu pipes up: “I will need a make-up artist. I know of one who wants Rs 5,000. I will have to book her in advance or else, I will lose her.” “Also a DJ and a photographer,” says Rohit, Lal’s youngest son.
Lal, his hands clasped, stares hard at the bed. “I have spoken to the caterer. He will need at least Rs 50,000-Rs 60,000. Ab to bank wali madamji par hi sab aas hai (Now all my hopes hinge on the madam at the bank).”