Demonetisation pangs have hit Manipur hard, dealing a double blow to the people who have been already struggling to cope with sky rocketing prices of essential items in view of over-a-month-old economic blockade.
With supplies of fuel severely restricted due to the blockade imposed by United Naga Council opposing plans to create Sadar Hills and Jiribam districts, people in the state have been forced to stand in long queues not only in front of banks and ATMS as in the rest of India, but also at oil pumps only to get rationed petrol and diesel.
As the old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes became invalid during the peak of the harvesting season, many farmers are finding it difficult to pay daily wages of their contract agricultural labourers.
On the other hand, the labourers, who are mostly paid in the new Rs 2,000 denominations in groups, are up against a unique problem of not only receiving delayed payments forcing them to buy daily needs on credit at inflated prices but also struggling to find change in smaller denominations to distribute among themselves.
“It’s a big struggle. I had saved up money through the year in old denominations to pay wages for harvesting season and suddenly I am told those are invalid. The workers are not accepting those notes,” said Bor Singh, a tenant farmer.
Since months of hard work cannot be wasted, Singh said, “I have to find a way to pay them and get the paddy to the barn.”
Presenting a different facet of the demonetisation problem, Melem Ranjan, a worker who earns Rs 350 for a day’s toil in the paddy fields, said this harvesting season he has been forced to wait at least two to three days to get his earnings as the farm owner was also struggling to get adequate cash from banks due to withdrawal limitations.
“When you are a hand-to-mouth class, not getting day’s wage is a big blow but what can we do? We know it’s not the fault of the farm owner as everyone is facing problem, but for us it is a question of bringing back food for the family at the end of the day,” Ranjan added.
Away from the fields, as people stand in queues in front of banks and ATMs to withdraw limited amount of money they are also forced to undertake similar exercise in front of outlets where there is limited distribution of fuels thanks to the economic blockade.
“The other day, people stood in queue overnight. They started queueing up in the afternoon itself when they got to know our station will distribute petrol the next day,” said Romesh Thokchom, an employee at a service station in the outskirts of Imphal.
“Since the fuel stock is limited, each customer can also get only a limited amount and initially we also have to struggle to give them change as most of them gave old Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes when these were still allowed,” he added.