– Shakuntala Vani (51) from Kandivli may not possibly have any black money. She sells vegetables for a living. Having managed somehow since the government demonetised currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 denominations on November 8, says Shakuntala, her family is now on the brink of starvation.
– Chote Lal (55) from Thakur village never used digital wallets in the 20 years he spent selling vegetables on the street. He does not know how Paytm works. He believes digital payment is for the young, and says he is “too old to learn”.
– Mintu Mandal (45), another vegetable seller, has been posting losses of Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000 every day since the big notes were. It is a big chunk of his daily business.
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Forty days have passed since Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes were declared illegal tender, but vegetable vendors and traders who operate out of the streets of Mumbai still stare at a bleak future. Their small businesses have taken a severe blow, their earnings cut to half of what used to be. They do not see the situation improving for them very soon.
“They keep saying things will improve, but things are getting worse day by day. I’m losing business worth Rs 3,000 every day. That is a very big margin for a small seller like me,” says Mintu Mandal, who has been selling vegetables in Kandivli East for some years now. He even opted for Paytm after the government’s move, but says not many traders who supply the vegetables to the vendors use digital wallets. “The one or two traders who do use Paytm accept it only for high value transactions of Rs 10,000 or Rs 20,000. For smaller transactions, we have to give cash, and there is not enough of it,” he says. “All of us with small businesses have been suffering. The rich do not suffer. They do not have any problems.”
Raj Kumar, 23, who has been selling vegetables since 2008, says his business is down by 50 per cent. “I started using Paytm, it has helped, but not many customers agree to digital transaction. They prefer cash. They give a Rs 2,000 note and expect change for it. How do I give them Rs 1,800 in cash if they buy vegetables worth Rs 200. Paytm can’t replace cash,” he says.
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Kumar adds, “I am still managing, but the small produce farmers who bring their yield to the city are far worse off. They don’t have smartphones. How do they use paytm? They just hope some vendor buys their produce for cash. And they are getting low rates because of cash crunch.”
Shakuntala has experienced that plight first hand. She started her vegetable business recently from the money her daughter made working as a cook. She gets her vegetables from markets in Lasalgaon (Nashik), and sells it to vendors and customers in the city, moving around in her mini-truck. “So much of farmer’s produce is going to waste because traders don’t have much cash to pay them. A portion of what I bring to the city too is rotting in the heat. Prices of grains have increased and I can barely make enough so that my family doesn’t starve. I even had to take a loan from someone to sustain the business,” says Shakuntala.
Another vendor, who did not wish to be named saying he did not want “any problems”, used to make around Rs 5,000 daily. It takes him two days now to make that money. “I have been selling vegetables for 17 years. It has never been this bad. There is nothing we can do right now,” he says.
Chote Lal’s business has also come down to half. Like most of the other vendors, his vegetables remain unsold on a daily basis. He has to try and sell them the next day, or else they go waste. “I used to make profit over the vegetables I used to get. Now I have been making a loss for the past month,” he says.
Most of the vendors had initially appreciated the government’s decision. But many say they are not that sure now. “They (the government) should have thought how it can affect people like us. It would have been better if there were more notes of smaller denomination. The Rs 2,000 note is creating a lot of problems for us,” says Kumar. Mandal does not have an answer to whether the step has gone down well. “You should ask that to the government,” he says.