Desperate times & measures: Punjab arhtiyas making farmers convert their black money to white
The cascading effects of demonetisation on the Indian economy and the populace continue to reveal its woes on a daily basis. In Punjab, agriculture and rural economy have been badly hit by the fallouts of the decision.
The latest in the series of impacts that this unpopular decision is having is that the arhtiyas, or commission agents, are persuading and even coercing the farmers to convert their black cash into white by depositing huge amounts of cash into their own bank accounts.
A visit to the villages in Sanaur area revealed that the arhtiyas are resorting to this practice knowing that the farmers' agricultural income is tax free. Their premise is that no one would be questioning the farmers if they deposit sums like a few lakhs in their accounts as the farmers have just sold off their paddy.
Farmers in the villages told Catch News that the arhtiyas are offering up to 22% cut for doing this job. In simple terms, if a farmer is ready to convert Rs 1 lakh of the arhtiya's black money into white, he can keep Rs 22,000 for himself.
"Almost every medium and big farmer is getting calls from the arhtiyas these days. They are desperately trying to find ways and means to convert their black money into white and with every passing day their problem is compounding," said a farmer in Sanur village.
He said that a large number of farmers are falling into the trap for a windfall gain knowing that no one would give them such a deal otherwise.
However, a large number of the farmers are also reluctant to be a part of this exercise. Most of such farmers are the middle-level or lower-level small ones. They are of the opinion that sooner or later law would surely catch up with them.
But many of them are drawing sadistic pleasure from the arhtiyas running from pillar to post looking for ways to legitimise money that they have stashed away in old notes Rs 500 and Rs 1,000.
"When we go to these arhtiyas for our money or for loans and advance payments, they make us sit for the whole day for even a paltry amount of Rs 5,000. How do they expect us to convert their black money worth lakhs into white overnight? While we are bearing the brunt of this anti-poor decision of the government led by Narendra Modi, why should they be spared? And the irony of the entire thing is that it is the community of traders, arhtiyas and industrialists that form the support base of Modi," said another farmer of Ballian village.
"No arhtiya has approached my family with any such offer yet and even if they do I would not accept it. Won't the bank officials ask me that when I could never ever deposit even Rs 20,000 in my account in one go, how come I am depositing a heavy amount of lakhs? We would never want to be caught on the wrong side of the law. We are poor but we have a reputation of being honest," pointed Pal Kaur, as she tied bundles of garlic in the field that her husband has taken on lease at the rate of Rs 50,000 per acre.
Her family is under tremendous economic stress as the vegetables being produced by them are not fetching any money in the market because of the currency ban.
"With cauliflower selling at Rs 3 per kilogramme, do you think I will be able to even meet the input costs of my farming operations? We have no money to send our children to school and college as they need cash for their daily needs like paying local bus fare and food besides paying the fees," pointed out her husband Pritam Singh.
It is a known fact that the arhtiyas carry out the majority of their transactions in cash. Their work has virtually come to a halt as they can neither accept money in the denominations of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 and the notes of smaller denomination are scarcely available. Neither they can disburse the currency in these denominations since the farmers are not accepting it.
There is another interesting aspect of Punjab's rural economy. A fairly large number of the arhtiyas also own petrol pumps along with fertiliser and pesticide outlets to ensure that the majority of money they give to farmers comes back in terms of sales at these outlets.
One of the arhtiyas from Samana area of Patiala district told Catch News, "It is true that we are approaching farmers for converting our cash. We are also using the petrol pumps and fertiliser outlets of ours for converting black money into white by fudging sales details."
Punjab being a poll-bound state, the issue has already assumed political overtones. In the latest round of allegations and counter allegations over the issue, Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP) national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has stated at a rally in Samana that Modi is only making a fool of the people as demonetisation drive has actually benefited the business tycoons.
"If Modi actually wants to bring black money out, then Badals (Chief Minister Parkash Singh and his deputy Sukhbir), who have amassed the biggest chunk of black money in Punjab and Captain Amarinder Singh (Congress president), who stashed black money in the Swiss bank, their should have been brought back. There cannot be any dearth of money with any state government if they use every single penny of the available fund at its optimistic level."
He said that in Punjab it is not lack of money, but a lack of political will in Badals and Amarinder, that has multiplied the woes of the state.
Amarinder on his part has accused Modi of throwing the country's economy into shambles with his ill-conceived move. He has requested the Supreme Court to direct fast-tracking of all cases against demonetisation to rescue the people from the crisis into which they have been plunged.
Amid media reports of deaths, industrial devastation and agricultural ruin in Punjab as a result of the demonetisation, Amarinder has expressed grave concern at the deteriorating situation.
He has dismissed the claims of the government that things had improved for the small farmers and villagers with its decision to pump money into the cooperative banks for disbursement and other initiatives taken to alleviate their woes as 'fraudulent'.
He said that with more than 7,000 villages in Punjab having no bank branches, and cooperative banks still not permitted to exchange or accept old currency notes, the Modi government is clearly misleading the people, who continue to run from pillar to post in a desperate bid to arrange enough cash to meet their bare essential needs.
Having initially welcomed the move initiated by the Modi government, the Akalis are now asking the Centre to allow exchange and deposit of old currency in the cooperative banks.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen