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Anarchy across India as people pay the price for govt's cashless dream

Sadiq Naqvi and Shahnawaz Malik | Updated on: 11 February 2017, 6:41 IST

The sudden move to ban all existing Rs 1000 and Rs 500 notes has thrown ordinary life out of gear across India. Multiple reports coming from the states and the national capital paint a picture of chaos. And that if things do not normalise soon, the country may be staring at a scale of disturbances it has not witnessed before.

The scene at the many banks and ATMs in the national capital, where angry people waited for their turn for hours, even as many had to go back empty handed for the banks ran out of cash, signals the growing anger against what many call a badly planned and hastily executed decision.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley's statement, that ATMs will take another couple of weeks to normalise operations as they need to be recalibrated, also means situation will not change soon.

Chaos across India

In Muzaffarnagar in the prosperous sugarcane belt in UP, on Friday, police had to resort to lathi charge and reportedly fire in the air, after angry locals started vandalising a Punjab National Bank branch in civil lines area over delays in transaction. An Axis Bank employee, points out the supply of currency has come down to as much as 20% of the normal levels after the decision, resulting in shortage of cash.

In Noida, an infant reportedly died after Union Minister Mahesh Sharma's Kailash Hospital, reportedly asked for an advance of Rs 10,000 and then refused to take the old currency notes. This allegation has been made by Abhishek, the father of the deceased child. Sharma has reportedly denied the allegations.

An infant died after Mahesh Sharma's hospital allegedly refuses to accept old currency notes

In other instances, people were found looking for cash to perform the last rites of their dead relatives.

In Meerut, the family of Bela Devi, who died of old age, waited unsuccessfully in a long queue to exchange notes, according to another report.

In Bihar's Kaimur district, a man named Ram Awadh died after he was unable to arrange funds for his daughter's wedding. The bridegroom's family had demanded a dowry of Rs 35,000, which he somehow managed to arrange. But PM Modi's announcement that Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes will cease to be legal tender changed everything. Driven by anxiety that the bridegroom's family won't accept the money and call off the wedding, Ram Awadh had a heart attack and died.

In Chhatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh, angry villagers in Bardaha village, looted a ration shop, since they, reportedly did not have cash to purchase essential food items.

In the backward Mewat region of Haryana, there were reports of police resorting to lathi charge to contain the angry crowd. The Mewat district, which according to the latest census has a population of more than 1 million, has just 25 ATMs, according to a government website.

Reportedly, only 28-32% of the country's population has access to financial institutions and 33% of the 138,626 bank branches are in 60 Tier-1 and Tier-2 cities. These figures stare in the face of claims of the Union government, which says this move will help in taking the country to a cashless economy, promoting plastic money.

"There is restlessness among the people after the decision to ban currency notes," a top cop from UP, told Catch. Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and several other states saw a mad rush on Friday evening after rumours on shortage of salt flew thick.

The people Catch spoke to on the phone, say that salt, which otherwise costs justs Rs 18 for a kilogram, was being sold for as much as Rs 400 at some places. "There was a mad rush at all small Kirana stores," says Ahmad from Bijnor.

Local newspapers carried a photographs of people carrying big sacks of salt. "We have not been able to find out who floated this rumour," Daljeet Chaudhary, the ADG, law and order, UP told Catch.

The rumour may be linked to the unease among the wholesalers after the decision. Trade insiders say that many of them have been forced to shut shop fearing raids by tax personnel. Many have gone underground.

Capital's woes

While it is the hinterland which is bearing the brunt of the decision, the urban pockets, too, are badly affected as people scrambled for essential commodities with little cash or the outgoing high denomination currency notes. Delhi Police claims to have received at least 4500 calls about incidents of violence at banks, ATMs and shops.

The chemist shops outside AIIMS and Safdarjung, according to multiple accounts, refused to accept the Rs 1,000 note if the value of the purchased medicines was less than that amount.

Ram Singh, whose daughter is in the intensive care unit of AIIMS told Catch how despite having some money in his bank account, he has not been able to withdraw because of the mad rush. "We will give answers for this in the next elections," he told Catch, as he waited for his turn in a serpentine queue at the SBI branch in Ansari Nagar.

Delhi Police got over 4500 calls regarding violence at banks, ATMs and shops

Ghulam Rabbani, from Yamuna Vihar, says he waited in the queue since five in the morning in his locality, and that the bank ran out of cash as his turn came, forcing him to again queue up at the SBI branch in Ansari Nagar, where he has to come daily for treatment. "I have not even eaten, as the food shops outside refuse the old currency," he told Catch waving the old Rs 500 note.

A video circulating on WhatsApp, passed off as a rumour, shows desperate customers looting essential items including bags of salt, from a mall in East Delhi's Seelampur. Late on Friday night, angry locals in New Delhi's Shaheen Bagh area clashed with the local police over non-availability of cash in the ATMs, reportedly resulting in injuries to four people including police personnel.

Ismail, who does fine Zari embroidery work for the big showrooms in Chandni Chowk and other markets, told Catch that he has not received any any new orders since the government took this decision.

In Khureji area of East Delhi, there are many small businessman like Ismail who do similar work for others and get paid on a per piece basis. "Our business is mostly in cash," Ismail says while pointing out how these small units employ at least ten people, who all have been rendered jobless after this move.

"The big shop owners who give us work have shut shops saying they have no money," he points out while adding that many are not opening shops fearing raids by tax authorities.

"I used to easily earn Rs 3,000 everyday," he says while adding how he has no idea if the business would be the same again

"This has only meant problem for us poor people who have little money. But I hope that it curbs the black money. I don't know how it will happen, but it should since the ministers are saying it on TV," a man outside an ATM in AIIMS, which had no cash, quipped.

First published: 12 November 2016, 11:40 IST