Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Demonetization- Experiences from the Field | Navneet Mishra

The move by the government to demonetize Rs.500 and Rs.1000 notes by replacing them with new Rs.500 and Rs.2000 notes has taken the country by surprise. This movement rendered everyone astonished as this was a momentous unexpected decision declared without any prior information in the eve of 8th November 2016 at 20:15 hours addressed by honorable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi.
Post announcement the people panicked queued in front of the banks. The rural citizens in the bank were ambiguous about the process of depositing their currency in the bank. In a rural area of Lucknow around 25 kilometers away from the city I found a 65 years old man who returned from the bank failing to deposit his currency because he did not have any bank account. It was also seen that bank officials were not supportive to needy customers and according to a report by DNAINDIA, 27 public sector bank employees were dismissed on the grounds of irregularities post demonetization.
Due to this step, adverse impact on people’s daily lives especially the rural population in Uttar Pradesh were amongst the worst sufferers due to the absence of banks. The rural population which was already largely dependent on cash transactions for agriculture and daily transactions and allied activities were massively impacted.
On November 17th, Lucknow as per the discussion with an editor of an English newspaper in Lucknow, the effect of demonetization could support favorably to central government in UP election 2017, if the situation at Banks and ATMs will improve in the coming days. But people who are located in areas with the inadequate reach of the banks could be a serious disadvantage to the government due to this step and situation can fall to uncontrolled status. The difficulties of such people were also neglected in local media and they also faced the ruthless behavior of the bank officials. The footfall at ATMs were very large in city area of Lucknow for almost 15 days. In Lucknow agricultural mandis, farmers, traders and laborers continue to wait for payments to be made. City continue to be cashless and coverage has been focused on the difficulties of those standing in queues. I have also observed the curiosity of people about immediate information if any new steps taken by government regarding demonetization is going to be announced through media.
While interacting with voters in the Ballia district of Uttar Pradesh, I found that people are more relying on media because of consistent changes in rules regarding bank deposits announced by the government and media was the only available source to confirm this information. I have encountered cases when people were mishandled by bank officials due to non-availability of such information.
A man from the ‘Rasra’ village of district Ballia in Uttar Pradesh whose income depends on the sale of milk and agriculture products which could barely feed the family. He was carrying some Rs500 and Rs1000 currency to the main district for exchange with other valid denominations of currencies. He received such currencies as his regular income was largely dependent on cash transactions. He travelled 30 kilometers to exchange his currency at the main branch of the city of a nationalized bank because he could not get money from a rural bank in his area. Due to disinformation about rules related to demonetization and not able to write in Hindi/English language (illiteracy), he could not fill the required form by bank of its own. So the bank officials denied to exchange his currencies after queuing up for 6 hours on the first day. As a result of such similar conduct and the cash crunch in the bank or any other glitches led to violence and traffic reported in the various places. I have also observed extra deployment of police force in many bank branches where there were large crowds outside the banks. In Lucknow around the radius of 5 Km of area in Charbagh and Burlington Chawk, only 3-5 ATMs were functioning in the second week of post demonetization and other ATMs had not been recalibrated. In the city, salaried people were also bearing the brunt of demonetization where salaries have been credited in their bank accounts but Bank/ATM were out of cash to dispense. While talking to these people in the field, I found that either they are criticizing the policy or supporting the decision taken by the government. The agitation emerged from the experiences of individual difficulties one faced due to cash crunch but views on supporting the policy are influenced by media coverage through which political parties were spreading their views on nationalism. Political communication had played vital role through media and terms like nation building or nationalism were associated with the demonetization policy in public debate. The objective of demonetization was started with dealing with corruption and black money by the Prime Minister through a national channel ended with the objective of cashless/digital economy.

Mainstream media has successfully covered narrative around the decision of demonetization. But there was a disconnect between the mainstream narrative and the facts which emerged in the ground. Television media was focused on coverage from the ground where people were standing in the queues, but their motive to find the impact of such a policy and overcome from the suffering was least prioritized. Media was found to be more focused on finding the position of people about pros and cons of a policy.

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