Demonetisation: In Northeast, where currency is scarce, it pays to go back to barter

On an initiative ordered by Chief Minister Pema Khandu, the district authorities organised a currency disbursement van and the local SBI branch has started helping people exchange their old notes.

Written by Samudra Gupta Kashyap | Guwahati | Updated: November 15, 2016 9:18 am
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CURRENCY NOTES have never meant much for people of the Olo sub-tribe of the Nocte community who live in villages such as Chinghan, Horu Chinghan, Konyu, Konsa, Noglo, Nisa, Changkhao, Pongkong on the Myanmar border in Arunachal Pradesh. With high-value currency notes out, the villagers have simply gone back to barter, part of their way of life anyway.

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“Not many people had too many Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes in the remote villages. People need money only when they come out to the district town or have to go to the medical college in Dibrugarh,” said Denghang Bosai, district information officer of Tirap. “As smaller currency notes have become scarce, many people in the remote villages are using barter, which anyway is by and large still prevalent in the remote mountains.”

On an initiative ordered by Chief Minister Pema Khandu, the district authorities organised a currency disbursement van and the local SBI branch has started helping people exchange their old notes, Bosai said.

In Anjaw, which shares a boundary with both China and Myanmar, people are facing a crunch of notes.

“Believe it or not, Anjaw district has only one SBI branch, located at Hawai. Even under normal circumstances, people have to travel to Hawai to withdraw or deposit money. They have been facing unbelievable difficulty because even after travelling up to 100 km on shared taxis, they have to return after seeing the ‘No Cash’ notice outside the bank,” said Hage Ruja, additional deputy commissioner of Anjaw. Hawai also has the only ATM in the district, now shut for almost a week now.

Currency consignments anyway take a long time to reach remote towns of Arunachal Pradesh, many of which are not connected by proper roads. “We initially thought of air-dropping notes to remote circle towns. But then when that did not work out, we are now sending currency stocks by road,” said Tilak Dhar, SBI deputy general manager in charge of the state.

In Manipur, an ongoing road blockade has also stopped supply of essential items. Most ATMs in Imphal and elsewhere are shut.

In Nagaland, only a few ATMs in Dimapur and Kohima functioned on Monday, but those ran dry within hours. ATMs are yet to be replenished in Mizoram and Tripura too.

An official in Agartala said Rs 2,000 notes worth Rs 200 crore, airlifted five days ago, was almost exhausted by Monday. “Besides, those who got these notes have not been able to buy anything because change is not available.”

The ruling Left Front has made demonetisation an issue for Saturday’s assembly bypoll in Barjala, Agartala. “While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been trying to help big industrialists who had invested in his campaign in 2014, the common man is suffering due to the withdrawal of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes,” Chief Minister Manik Sarkar said at an election rally Monday.

In Guwahati, too, ATMs were either shut or remained open briefly before cash ran out. Monday being a bank holiday, the SBI introduced mobile points for exchange of notes at four locations each in Guwahati, Tezpur and Imphal.