Bhola, who had celebrated the day a fellow "chaiwallah" (tea vendor) like him rose to become the Prime Minister of India, cannot help but censure the man today, and the government he leads.
“I used to make Rs 1,600 a day,” Bhola confides to one of his regular customers from the clutch of ITES offices in a commercial hub just at the edge of Delhi. “Now I barely make Rs 150.
His roadside tea business – a ubiquitous sight across the length and breadth of this country – is on the verge of collapse and he has not enough to feed his family of four.
"It Is Not About Business, but My Small Kids"
My customers have dwindled because everyone is protecting their small notes, if at all they’ve managed to get anything from the banks. I, on the other hand, have not been able to replenish my stock of desi biscuits because the people from whom I purchase won’t accept the big notes that I usually give them to buy supplies once or twice a week. If I were to go and stand in a bank queue to change my money, I would lose even the little business I am getting.Bhola
Bhola's is not a singular story of business gone bad and the "aam admi' being badly hit by a measure that was ostensibly meant to unearth the black money hoards of the rich. Millions of people like Bhola are telling the same story – and chaiwallahs and petty roadside traders and street vendors like him are the hardest hit.
Suhani, a widow who sells vegetables at a roadside market in Rohini, in north Delhi, has five kids – all under 8 – to look after. But for the past three days, she has not been able to buy vegetables from the wholesale market because she has no cash in acceptable lower denominations.
"I don't know what to do. I’ve exhausted all my stock and from tomorrow there is going to be no business at all," says Suhani. Her half-naked kids sit near her.
“It isn’t about business. It’s about my small kids. I have to feed them. From tomorrow, if the situation doesn’t change and you see me begging at a crossing, don’t be shocked,” she says, tears welling up in her eyes.
“Hardly Get Customers Now"
The vegetable seller said she has to pay in cash to buy her stocks and cash is not available. She has a Jan-Dhan bank account in which she said she has saved some Rs 1,000 in the past few months. "But I live alone with my kids; how can I go to a bank and wait in a queue?"
Similar problems are being faced by millions of other cash-dependent small vendors and grocery store owners after the government announced a shock move to demonetise high-value currency notes of 500 and 1,000 rupees on 8 November.
Sabheri is usually a crowded market place in Greater Noida in Uttar Pradesh where people flock in the hundreds every morning and evening to buy essentials like fruits, vegetables, chicken, mutton and other groceries. But for the past two days, the sprawling market has had few customers.
Ishan Qureshi, who has been selling mutton and chicken in the market for the past five years, says he used to sell at least four to five goats and 50 chickens a day. But he has sold only five goats and 30 chickens in the past one week, which is a nearly 80 per cent dip in his business.
"I barely get customers willing to pay cash (in lower denominations). I extended credit facility also, but perhaps people have started thinking eating mutton is a luxury. I hardly get customers now."
The depressing stories of such vendors play out similarly almost in every corner of India, a heavily cash-transaction dependent country that is far from transforming into a cashless nation as the government wants it to – in one executive stroke.
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(The article has been published in arrangement with IANS.)