Indira Vasahat, a cramped colony of daily wage workers in Khadki, usually wears a deserted look in the afternoons, as most residents leave by then to look for work. But three weeks after the Centre announced the demonetisation of high-denomination notes, most residents of the colony are heading back to their homes in villages and towns across India, as almost 40 per cent jobs have dried up due to the cash crunch. With their contractors failing to make timely payments, residents of Indira Vasahat are struggling to even pay for essential items.
As supporters and opponents of demonetisation continue to debate its pros and cons, those hit hardest by the measure seem to have little choice other than to hope for the best. Daily wage workers like Mankiribai Reddy and Shinu Pawar, who came to Pune in search of work from distant Telangana, are among them.
Mankiribai Reddy’s daughter is the sole breadwinner in a family of three.
The girl, who works as a loader at construction sites, used to earn about Rs 500 per day, with the contractor paying her the cumulative amount every six days.
“Since the bigger notes have been withdrawn, my daughter has not been paid her full wage. The contractor pays her just about Rs 800-1,000 per week, as against the Rs 3,000 she is supposed to be paid,” said Mankiribai. The cash crunch has forced them to stop buying vegetables and cut down on the consumption of milk.
“We are surviving on 10 kg rice and 10 kg wheat, which we get from a fair price shop,” she added. The family already has a debt of almost Rs 2,000 with the local grocer and other shops. “The contractor said he is finding it difficult to get cash to pay us and if the situation doesn’t improve soon, I don’t know how will I make ends meet,” she said.
However, Reddy’s daughter is one of the few who still have regular work. For daily wage workers such as Shinu Pawar, who has a wife and two young sons to take care of, work has dried up completely.
“Many of us don’t get jobs any more… work has halted at many sites,” said Pawar, a mason who used to work at under-construction sites.
“Before the ban, I used to earn around Rs 3,500 per week… in the last few weeks, I have barely earned Rs 1,000 per week,” he said.
While supplies from the fair price shop has alleviated Reddy’s plight to some extent, Pawar and others, who don’t even have a ration card, have run into debts which they don’t know how to pay off. Most of the residents of Indira Vasahat have bank accounts but they have hardly ever carried out any bank transactions. None of them have debit or credit cards, and are clueless about online banking.
One of them, Shanti Nenaware, has not been able to pay her rent as she has no cash to do so. “There have been long queues outside the Bank of India branch where I have an account. I skipped work twice to try and withdraw money, but could not do so,” she said.
Like others in Indira Colony, Nenaware is a daily wage earner and she misses out on an entire day’s pay when when she skips work. As her creditors grow impatient, Nenaware is desperately trying to figure out to how to make ends meet without any cash. “At the most, I can resist the creditors for one more week… after that, I don’t know what will happen,’ she said.