1. Demonetisation: Back to the future from food rationing to cash rationing!

Demonetisation: Back to the future from food rationing to cash rationing!

Making and breaking queues is a human game Indians love to play. Ubiquitous ration queues thanks to 'Ship to Mouth' became a passe long ago but today queues due to 'ATM to Mouth' is the new game India is learning to play.

By: | New Delhi | Published: November 20, 2016 10:37 AM
In his inimitable style, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly emphasised the need of "start-up India and stand-up India". Today both are happening in good measure; people are starting up early morning in search of currency notes and they are also standing up in long queues. (Reuters) In his inimitable style, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly emphasised the need of “start-up India and stand-up India”. Today both are happening in good measure; people are starting up early morning in search of currency notes and they are also standing up in long queues. (Reuters)

Making and breaking queues is a human game Indians love to play. Ubiquitous ration queues thanks to ‘Ship to Mouth’ became a passe long ago but today queues due to ‘ATM to Mouth’ is the new game India is learning to play.

In his inimitable style, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly emphasised the need of “start-up India and stand-up India”. Today both are happening in good measure; people are starting up early morning in search of currency notes and they are also standing up in long queues.

May be, Modi should add a new phrase — ‘queue up India’. This is not the India the people of this country dreamt of.

India is undoubtedly a country of long queues and why not with a population of 1.3 billion, serpentine lines is a normal sight. Today it seems at least one person from every household is standing patiently looking for that piece of paper which says, “I promise to pay the bearer the sum of one hundred rupees”.

The world’s largest democracy has literally become cashless ever since that fateful Tuesday announcement by Modi to take away 86 per cent of the currency from the hands that toil for India. Currency is the life blood of any nation and if you take away 86 per cent of the life of person, sooner than later the person is likely to pass out.

Just the other day, a neighbour was buying vegetables using a handful of loose coins that had dollars thrown in for good measure. ‘Ek Naya paisa’ got an all new meaning after that fateful 8 PM announcement.

As Finance Minister Arun Jaitley emphasises repeatedly, “India is the fastest growing large economy of the world”, but what is growing thick and fast are the long queues and people’s patience is running out in this new unprecedented ‘Shirshasana’ or a headstand the common man has been made to do by the yoga-loving Modi.

Indians know how to handle the rough and tumble of daily life and many are supportive of the move of Modi to rein in the shadow economy that ran on cash transactions. India is indeed a country of contrasts — we can send the Tata Nano car sized Mangalyaan hurtling 200 million kilometres away to hit bull’s eye in orbiting the Red Planet but we can not ensure that average Indians get their hard earned Rs 2,000 without having to jostle.

The serpentine queues are lining up to take modern India back to the future it seems! To me, a small-town country boy, this brings back memories of when India was living ‘ship to mouth’… queues at ration shops extended till infinity and stocks vanished faster than they were ever replenished.

Today, I go back four decades ago to a time when food shortages were plenty, grains like wheat were being imported in millions of tonnes from the USA under the ‘PL 480’ or food for peace scheme and since they landed on seaside ports, the phrase ‘ship to mouth’ became a household name.

I recall my mother tightly holding my little finger and both of us queueing up outside a dilapidated ration shop to buy a few kilograms of red coloured wheat and a handful of sugar.

More often than not a handwritten placard read ‘out of stock’ very akin to the scribbles on paper that today reads ‘no cash’.

Ration shops and queues were a part of the daily lexicon in the bad old days of the 20th century when the left of centre socialistic Congress party-led governments had brute majority. Today after decades, another majority government, albeit right of centre rules and is considered rather friendly to capitalism and trade, yet queues are back in vogue.

But even in this so-called resurgent digital India of the 21st century where ‘Make in India’ is prevailing slogan the country is literally ‘making queues’ and this time it seems it is for ‘ATM to mouth’! Patience is running thin and a hungry India may soon become an angry India.

Food rationing was rampant, households usually converged at ‘ration shops’ and not at Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs). Back then money may not have been plenty but at least it was there but food grains were in short supply.

Today the new generation has learnt to be patient in queues in ‘food courts’ but now loose change is in severe short supply and credit card machines are jammed as the servers are unable to handle the new digital rush.

Banks have become the new ration shops, and the talk of the neighbourhood revolves around the fact that such and such person hit a jackpot as he was able to withdraw a princely sum of Rs 2,000 from the always parched ATM machines. It is almost like the long forgotten lottery has made a comeback.

Doomed we may not be but troubled we certainly are since on the issue of demonetisation the government started off by asking for two days. Jaitley then said, “bear with me, the trauma will continue for two weeks” and now a tearful Modi extended the pain to two months.

Eyes wide open, India has blindly opted a bumpy route to a cashless economy all in the hope that the elusive black money holder will be ensnared. Indeed, it seems we are a country that is heading back to the future, as we race to become a cashless economy waiting patiently in never ending queues collecting as doles rationed cash which is rightfully our own.

The government, it seems, is blind to the fact that black money holders do not stand in queues to liquidate their ill-gotten wealth.

A so-called surgical strike on black money by the Modi government whose script is now unfortunately going horribly wrong in its implementation. On the ground it is causing too much disruption for the vast majority of honest Indians. Cash rationing was not a gift that people expected when Modi promised ‘achhe din’.

  1. K
    Koickaleth Varghese
    Nov 20, 2016 at 7:07 am
    The demonetization is a cure to many an ill faced by Indian economy; corruption,fake currency both Indian and foreign, Mafia extortions, tax evasion, parallel economy etc.(Total cleansing at one stroke) But the prophet of the digital world our Prime Minister declared it boldly but executed it sadly disrupting daily life of common man who is not a party to any of the above evils but of course a victim. It disrupted and dislocated economic fabric of India. One part of India Farmers cannot sow another part their products sold for pittance. Fisher flock, vegetable venders, small retailers, lottery ticket venders (some of them blind and disabled) lost their livelihood. Consumer goods stocks piled up, farmers stocks perished, NBFC sat without business. Transporters vehicles sted, warehouses full; forced closing of many of the economic activities which creates wealth. GDP forecast is affected. But the common man's plight is pathetic and faced like totalitarian administration the author amply put it rationing of currency to buy food, medicine, surgical operations in hospitals. PMs surgical operation put the common man in an anaesthetic condition. Considered to be one of the most practical world leader, Modiji's epoch making declaration was done without making proper infrastructure condition for implementing the decision. In the age of digitalization it could have been done with ease and enjoyment to the common man. But not only it was ill planned but subsequent follow up decisions also not at all professional like; example inking of the legal tender seekers; It become a comedy of errors. It is something like burning the house to kill rats and then rebuilding the house. The common man is the victim of our present current system and he is further victimised and pay a heavy price for rectifying the corrupt system while the perpetuates and beneficiary of the system are less affected. I were in Kuwait during Iraqi invasion. There was a mad rush to the ATMs. If one ATM run out of money people will rush to the next. Then Kuwaiti dinars was declared illegal and were forced to sell or pay the currency for a quarter of its value. Then on our repatriation, on arrival to complete my clearance (no custom checking - regufee status), the official at the exist door asked me to take Rs. 1500/- but first I refused but the official insisted I have to take it. I took it. I got fee special train transport from Mumbai to Kottayam. At destination station, official from Kottayam collaborate have a table and money chest. They offered me Rs.250/- to meet my travel expense home. (not took). The current Indian situation I recollected my old experience. The lesson from the Indian Government patronage at that time, could have used to avoid inconvenience of currency transfer and refurbishing with changes. If it was well planned government could have opened temporary facilities to mitigate the difficulties of the people. Money changing counter at railway station, in the ticket counter of on platform itself with just a laptop and currency chest; like wise at airports, bus stations, markets, malls apart from the it seems that the w home work was done in officials in gl house, with out knowledge of the real situation. RBI cleared have the arithmetic of every day transaction and the amount of currencies and changes need in every part of India. But there was a pathetic breakdown of w system. The size of notes changed to save money and print more notes without considering the ATM machines size. It seems only after printing, the authorities found the calibration issue. Why the 500 notes were not ready simultaneously? It is like Kerala Government printing text books where most of the text books are made available only in the 2nd semester. Though it is a one of the most constructive economic reforms of Independent India, it also one of the nightmare reform for the public in the initial stage. Indian villages even affluent farmers are not in the habit of harbouring their cash in banks and same is the case of most of the middle income and marginal farmers. Even under Modiji's pet project Jan-Dhan Yojana, majority of villages still are without bank account and large number of them seldom visited bank branches. So let the government to deal with the situation more leniently to avoid any further inconvenience and lose to innocent people whose creed is handwork and honesty though he is the ultimate beneficiary of this epoch making reform in the form of low prices and low cost of living. As Mao Zedong said at the time of cultural revolution; "one step backward for two steps forward.
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