After midnight on November 9, while plans were being made to either exchange or dispose of Rs 500 or Rs 1,000 notes, an ignorant Mohammed Shahabuddin, a truck driver from Mumbai, was stuck at a toll naka in Odisha. It was a revelation to him when told that higher denomination note would not be accepted.
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For him, the problem had just begun. Roadside dhabas, and even some petrol pumps did not accept the old higher denomination note shortly after the announcement. Banking on requests to passersby to give him change, he finally managed to make his way back to the city.
“It was a shock for sure. My truck was made to stand for hours till change was produced. There was no way I could have carried change unless an announcement of the same was made sooner. Battling a thousand troubles due to cash shortage, I tried to come back as soon as I could,” he added.
While many drivers managed to make their way back by relying on goodwill of acquaintances, managing cash by pleading with others or after facing trouble for hours to get change from cash-seekers, the rest are busy finding their way back.
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One of their colleagues, they claim is still stranded at a toll naka in Raipur failing to receive new cash from an ATM since last week.
“We have been abused, forcibly asked to produce change and even beaten up for pleading that the old notes be accepted. Many even hoard our Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes asking us to make use of any commodity or buy food worth that value. Some dhabas on the way accepted our 1000 rupee notes and gave us 600 back,” said Ghulam Khan, truck driver.
Besides their personal expenses, drivers said they needed money to pay agents. “Not just for our expenses, we also have to keep cash ready to pay agents who demand money on and off for clearing our entry into the state borders or passing our permits. For all of this, they demand newer notes or change which we fail to produce. We are also charged penalties for overloading or other reasons that require payments by us in smaller denomination cash. How are we supposed to make arrangements for so much smaller
denomination cash when we face problems fulfilling our own requirements,” Shahabuddin added.
Drivers also raised issues about carrying excess notes of 100 with them as robberies on highways remain a major problem. And as far as carrying Rs 2000 currency notes, they claim, it will be of no use because getting change becomes even more difficult.
“When we submit a Rs 2000 currency note, we are not given back change but they ask us to make future purchases or transactions with the remaining amount. If we had to let go off such a higher amount at one stop, how do we manage the rest of the journey?” another truck driver said.
The currency shortage causes delivery delays, brunt of which has to be borne by them, they said. With workers engaged in unloading of commodities from trucks also demanding new currency notes, the journey becomes more difficult, they said.
“We do not understand if we have to to go to work or stand in bank queues waiting to get exchange of money. Even if we do that, they hand us such lesser amounts which hardly contributes to the long journeys we take. An increase in withdrawal limits remains the solution,” Mohan Mapralkar, a truck driver, said.