At any given day, Kolkata’s Mallikghat flower market is bustling with activity, luring customers with its myriad colours, the fragrance of jasmine and roses and a breathtaking view of the iconic Howrah bridge. Vendors, their bodies draped with garlands of marigold, move around, trying to tempt customers into a making a purchase.
On Friday, the market, known to be the largest of its kind in terms of sales in Asia, is almost deserted. Petals of roses, chrysanthemums, lilies, jasmine and marigold lie discarded, crumpled underfoot. Demonetisation has made a thousand flowers wilt.
Watch What Else Is making News
Prices have been slashed to less than half, and yet, customers are a rare sight. Traders are frustrated. Over a week after the Centre announced its demonetisation policy, they are still using old currency. “Our flowers will get ruined in a few hours. The government expects us to wait for 50 days?” asks one.
Vendors initially attempted to brave the tide of demonetisation, explaining that like everyone else, they too want their country “to progress”. But after experiencing the serpentine queues at banks and watching in horror as prices hit rock bottom, they had no option but to start throwing away bundles of withered flowers.
“No one has money to buy flowers. Sales need to be happen quick, or they will lose their freshness and we will be left with nothing to sell,” said Sammarth Sen, a 42-year-old trader. Jasmine, for instance, sold at Rs 400 per kg, and has now come down to Rs 150 per kg.
“What can we do? Flowers aren’t like other commodities. They’re difficult to grow and the demand is seasonal. We had expected a huge sale on Jagadhatri Puja. But due to the move, no one had any money. We have no chance but to accept old currency,” said Bharat Singh, another trader.
In spite of it being wedding season, sales this year have been a third of last year. With their daily bread now hinging on income made from selling in temples, traders are now questioning the way demonetisation was implemented.
“We’re selling flowers at the price of dirt. Soon, we won’t even have the money to feed ourselves. If the government thinks I am a criminal because I am taking old notes to feed myself, let them do so. I have no choice,” said Ali Sheikh, a florist from Hooghly.