IT HAS been two days since 16-year-old Siba Das died at R G Kar Medical College and Hospital in Kolkata allegedly after a private chemist shop refused to accept a demonetised Rs 500 note from his family when they went to buy medicines. While both doctors and chemist have denied the allegations, The Indian Express found while many medical shops are still accepting old notes, they have a condition — they want you to buy medicines worth at least Rs 400 if you give them a Rs 500 note.
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On Saturday, a team of The Indian Express visited five chemist shops with a Rs 500 note. While three stores asked the team to buy medicines worth Rs 400, the others asked for change. According to a circular issued by the Centre on November 9, following its ban on old notes, private chemist shops would accept banned notes on production of doctor’s prescription and identity proof.
Chemist Subhash Chatterjee of Gauri Shankar Pharmacy near R G Kar, said: “Hospital and medical shops are places of emergency. Better planning would have helped us… initially, there were lot of confusion… We are accepting banned notes but only when people are ready to buy medicine worth Rs 400. We don’t have enough change to pay back the customers.”
“We feel bad refusing patients but what option do we have? We cannot even buy medicines from distributors as they are not accepting old notes,” he added.
Binod Hela, an employee of L B Pharma located outside a government hospital, said: “We try not to refuse patients who are in need of life saving drugs. But we ask them to buy medicines worth Rs 400. Those who do so, we give them change. But those who don’t, we are forced to refuse.”
When contacted, president of Bengal Chemists and Druggists Association, Shankha Roy Choudhury, said the pharmaceutical industry was suffering huge losses because of demonetisation.
“Retail business has gone down by 40 per cent while distributors are facing at least 60 per cent losses. Distributors are not allowed to accept banned notes and chemists don’t have low denomination notes. In such a situation, medical stores are running their business on available stock. For the last 10 days, the distributors are sitting idle.”
Pintu Prasad, whose has run out of medicines for his mother, who suffers from paralysis, said: “I tried to buy medicines but chemists said the medicines I need was out of stock. They are not buying new stocks since distributors are not accepting scrapped notes. I have no option but to wait till the situation gets better.”
Preeti Pandey, who had come to buy medicines for her mother, a cardiac patient, outside R G Kar, added: “I needed medicines but the stores had no change. So, I returned without medicines.”
Chemists claimed their apex body — All India Organisation of Chemist and druggists — has appealed to the Centre to allow wholesalers and distributors to accept defunct notes at least till November 24.
“The government has given us instructions to accept banned notes and people are accusing us of ignoring the circular. But no one is realising our problem. Until there is sufficient supply of low denomination notes, there cannot be smooth transaction between us and the patient party,” said a chemist.
“Our sales are down. People don’t have cash and with a new rule everyday, there is huge confusion,” said another chemist.