About 20 km off National Highway-24 connecting Lucknow to Sitapur, Saholi village of about 500 households is surrounded by dusty plain fields, with most of them still to sow their rabi crops. Ram Lal, 70, a Dalit farmer who owns four bighas, says the demonetisation couldn’t have come at a worse time for farmer families like his.
The nearest bank, the Allahabad UP Gramin Bank branch, has not dispensed much cash since the decision scrapping Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes was announced. Though all the farmers have bank accounts, most opened for MGNREGS wages, none have any ATM cards. The bank itself has no ATM.
Pankaj Kumar Singh, ‘Bank Mitra’ at the Gopalpur Bhatha branch of the Allahabad UP Gramin Bank, said they had not received any cash to distribute till Tuesday.
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Ram Lal says he has no money in his account and had only a Rs 500 note with him on November 8 when the Prime Minister announced the scrapping of notes. “I had got Rs 1,500 two months ago as old-age pension (paid quarterly under a state government scheme). Most of it was spent in the last two months. I carried the Rs 500 left with me to a villager who owns a tractor and tills my land. I have been without any money since then.”
He doesn’t have money to either irrigate his land, or to buy fertiliser and seeds for his wheat crop, he says, sitting outside his two-room house where he lives with his wife, daughter, and her two children.
His wife Mahakarna has had fever for the last two weeks, but he has no money to buy medicines. Trip to the nearest good hospital, in Sidhauli town that is 20 km away, would cost him at least Rs 1,000.
“This is a very ill-timed decision. The PM should have avoided it at a time when farmers sow their land. I can’t borrow from anyone either because all the villagers are without money. The sowing is already late and is getting delayed even more,” he says.
The demonetisation would have affected only the rich and not the poor if it had been announced a month later, he adds.
Besides, prices of even their standing crops such as paddy and urad have crashed, farmers complain. “Local buyers are buying the crops of urad and til at half the cost because of lack of cash in the market. Most of us are hesitant to sell the crop at such prices, but many have sold in order to buy fertiliser and seeds,” says another villager, Siya Ram.
Ram Lal hopes the one quintal bajra (pearl millet) and a similar amount of paddy he has at home from the kharif season will see his family through. “We are poor people. Our family has been eating chapatis of bajra. Even if we don’t get vegetables, we will manage with eating salt and chapatis. But if the situation remains like this for another two weeks, we will not be able to sow any land. Modi kihin toh badhiya hain, lekin gareeb pareshan ho gawa (Modi did a good thing but the poor have been facing trouble),” says Ram Lal.
Sidhauli town, located 50 km north of Lucknow, has branches and ATMs of almost all the banks functioning in Uttar Pradesh. However, he hasn’t been able to get any money due to the long queues, says Sagar Gautam, one of its 25,000 residents.
Gautam, 40, who repairs electrical items like TVs, inverters and ACs, visited ATMs on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Most of them were closed on Tuesday, he adds.
Gautam had only Rs 250 on November 8 when the announcement was made scrapping Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. The family of six lived on this for two days, before Gautam’s daughter Vineeta, a BA student, managed to withdraw Rs 4,000 from her bank account.
“As soon as we got that money, I gave Rs 3,500 to my diabetic father. He needed medicines. I was left with only Rs 500. Today I have to attend a tilak ceremony of my relative’s daughter in Itaunja, but I am left with only Rs 200. If I fill petrol of Rs 100 in the motorcycle, I will be left with Rs 100. So I am thinking of taking public transport. But I will not be able to give anything for shagun unless I borrow from someone,” he says.
Gautam has no hopes of earning anything soon either as, according to him, not a single customer has come to his shop since November 8.
Essentials have also started showing a strain, he adds. “The agencies providing LPG cylinders are not accepting old currency.”
“We have reduced our household expenses to bare minimum,” Gautam adds. “I don’t bring any bananas for children when I return home in the evening, we take only half a litre of milk in place of one litre.”
He says while they are traditionally BSP supporters, they backed the PM on this. “The only problem is the government should have made preparations in advance.”