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Demonetization Effect: 6 Months After India Currency Ban and Poor Still Feel the Heat of the Decision

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Like thousands of businesses as currency shortages ease, sales have bounced back for Charanjit Yadav, who sells generator sets and batteries in the business hub of Gurugram near New Delhi. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

Like thousands of other small-business entrepreneurs in India, Charanjit Yadav saw his sales of generator sets and batteries plummet in the weeks after the government’s surprising move to scrap 86 percent of the country’s currency last November.

Six months on, as business booms, Yadav only recalls the currency ban when he looks at the crisp new notes that have replaced the old ones. “Everything is back to normal. It is absolutely OK for my work,” he said, glancing at the orders placed on another busy day.

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But less than a kilometer from the bustling market where his shop is located in the business hub of Gurugram, near New Delhi, the massive cash crunch that India faced for more than two months has left its mark.

Braving sizzling summer temperatures of 44 degrees C (111 degrees F), a group of construction laborers had waited since dawn at a junction where contractors normally come to hire daily wage workers.

Fewer opportunities

Dhani Ram left for his village in January after work dwindled as cash shortages stopped many real estate projects. He returned a month ago, hoping that finding work would be easier. That has not happened.

Cash shortages have eased, but Dhani Ram (in white shirt), a daily wage laborer, still finds it difficult to find work as the real estate sector continues to struggle. (A. Pasricha/VOA)
Cash shortages have eased, but Dhani Ram (in white shirt), a daily wage laborer, still finds it difficult to find work as the real estate sector continues to struggle. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

“I hardly get work for 15 days in a month,” he said. “Earlier, I used to get work for about 25 days a month.”

Unable to eke out a living from his tiny farm in Uttar Pradesh state, Gajinder Singh and 11 others in his village came to the city with a contractor who promised them work. But after four days, he had not been placed anywhere.

“I sleep at night under the rail station, I don’t know what to do,” he said in despair.

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Six months after India’s fast-growing economy was disrupted by the radical currency ban, growth is back on track in most sectors and stock markets are surging. But many poor people still scramble to find work as the country’s vast informal sector continues to struggle.

Growth last year is estimated to have been around 7 percent — less than the 7.9 percent recorded in the previous year, but not as severely dented as many economists had feared. Indian officials say these numbers give the lie to grim warnings that the drastic move, meant to flush out untaxed money, would put a grinding brake on the economy.

“It was clearly not doomsday. Looks like it was a blip, a banknote blip,” said chief economist D.K. Joshi at Crisil research and consultancy in Mumbai.

Auto sales jump

Many indicators support that. Automobile sales have jumped in recent months as serpentine lines outside banks to exchange old notes vanished. Automakers have lined up new launches as shoppers again open their purses.

The situation has normalized at banks and ATMs, which had drawn huge lines of people wanting to change old notes for new a few months ago. (A. Pasricha/VOA)
The situation has normalized at banks and ATMs, which had drawn huge lines of people wanting to change old notes for new a few months ago. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

Projections that the economy is poised for stronger growth has led stock markets to hit a record high in the past week. The rally has drawn tens of thousands of new middle-class investors into the market amid optimism that growth is rebounding.

Economists say most sectors of the economy are back to normal except those that depend heavily on cash transactions, such as real estate.

N.R. Bhanumurthy at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy in New Delhi said it would take more time to assess the full impact of the currency ban on the economy. But he said he was optimistic it did not erode confidence as was widely feared.

He pointed to India’s strengthening currency — the rupee is at a nearly two-year high and has gained about 5 percent against the dollar in recent months.

“While other currencies in the world are depreciating because of the strengthening of the U.S. dollar, ours is the only major currency that is appreciating. So that shows that the foreign investor seems to be betting heavily on the Indian growth story,” he said.

‘Devastating’ for many

However, while it is largely business as usual for the middle class and formal sectors, economists say the impact on tens of millions of people who depend on the informal sector — hawkers, vegetable sellers and laborers in cities and small farmers in remote villages — has been much harder. India’s informal sector accounts for 40 percent of gross domestic product but employs as much as 75 percent of the country’s workforce.

Despondent laborers wait for work at a busy junction in Gurugram near New Delhi. Demand for labor has dipped as work at many construction sites slows down. (A. Pasricha/VOA)
Despondent laborers wait for work at a busy junction in Gurugram near New Delhi. Demand for labor has dipped as work at many construction sites slows down. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

Calling the move “devastating” for the informal sector, economist Kaushik Basu wrote this week in the Indian Express newspaper that “the brunt of the pain of demonetization has been shouldered by the poor and the lower middle class.”

While the full impact on them may not yet have been reflected in statistics, the mood of despondency among those waiting for work in Gurugram gave support to such assessments. (VOA)

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Small, medium firms were limping back when GST added to pain: Stakeholders (Note Ban Series)

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Small, medium firms were limping back when GST added to pain: Stakeholders (Note Ban Series)

New Delhi, November 3, 2017: The backbone of India’s manufacturing sector — micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) — had not yet recovered from the demonetisation move when the Goods and Services Tax (GST) came in to add to the pain, according to industry stakeholders.

“The base of the MSME pyramid is comprised of informal sector, which has traditionally done business in cash. With withdrawal of cash, this market seized up for a quarter or so. They (MSMEs) are limping back to normality,” Anil Bhardwaj, Secretary General, Federation of Indian Micro and Small and Medium Enterprises (FISME), told IANS.

“The recovery is slow because of the new disruption in the form of GST. In the short term, there could be loss of business opportunities because of lack of capital in the informal markets,” he said.

Bhardwaj said that the housing sector, which had more than 60 product categories linked to MSMEs, was drastically hit, both directly and indirectly.

According to D.S. Rawat, Secretary General of Assocham, except for some payment gateways, most of the sectors lost out.

“The impact of demonetisation would have evaporated, but the GST roll-out issues are being braved by some sectors, particularly the SMEs and the traders,” Rawat told IANS.

In the Economic Watch report by Ernst & Young for September 2017, demonetisation has been blamed for an adverse impact on the economy in the short run, as its “benefits are yet to overtake” the costs.

“The government and people at large did have to bear considerable costs in the immediate aftermath of demonetisation. Some of these costs may be difficult to quantify, but objective evidence of the short-term costs is available in at least some important dimensions,” the report said.

“There was an erosion of growth, output and employment,” it added.

The overall economic growth is still contested, however, as some argue that the downward spiral in gross domestic product (GDP) growth preceded demonetisation.

“Though the GDP growth has been lower post the exercise, it will not be fair to conclude that demonetisation was the only factor responsible for this. The growth had started slowing right after the third quarter of 2016-17 and the trend continued post-November as well,” said Ranen Banerjee, Partner-Public Finance, Economics and Urban, at PwC India.

Others like the EY’s report indicate that demonetisation resulted in a “tangible adverse impact” on GDP growth.

“Real GDP growth has been falling steadily quarter after quarter since the fourth quarter of FY16, when it was nine per cent. It fell to 5.7 per cent in first quarter FY18, a decrease of 3.3 percentage points,” the report pointed out.

“The two quarters that can be considered as the demonetisation quarters in FY17 were the third quarter of FY17 and fourth quarter of FY17. In these two quarters, the GDP growth rate fell to seven per cent and 6.1 per cent, respectively.”

It mentioned that the downward trend in growth preceded demonetisation and was largely caused by an investment slowdown.

On the industrial production front, in December 2016, the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) had contracted by 0.4 per cent from a 13-month high of 5.7 per cent reported for November.

However, it rose 2.7 per cent in January 2017. The latest IIP figures for August showed that factory output grew 4.3 per cent against the same month last year on the back of robust mining and electricity sector growth.

According to the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, manufacturing output in the country in July 2017 had grown marginally by 1.2 per cent.

“The event clearly pushed the economy towards a higher degree of digitisation and financial inclusion. Accordingly, the digital finance sector seems to have gotten a push while over the longer term financial services should be the biggest gainer,” said Anis Chakravarty, Lead Economist, Deloitte.

(Rohit Vaid can be reached at rohit.v@ians.in)

(Editors: The above article is part of a series of demonetisation stories leading up to November 8)

–(IANS)

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Mahalaya: Beginning of “Devipaksha” in Bengali Celebration of ‘Durga Puja’

“Mahalaya” is the auspicious occasion that marks the beginning of “Devipaksha” and the ending of “Pitripaksha” and heralds the celebration of Durga Puja

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Mahalaya morning in Kolkata. Flickr
  • Mahalaya 2017 Date: 19th september.
  • On Mahalaya, people throng to the holy river Ganges in order to pay homage to their ancestors and forefathers; which is called ‘Torpon’
  • Mahalaya remains incomplete without the magical chanting of the scriptural verses from the ‘Chandi Kavya’ that is broadcasted in All India Radio
  • The magic is induced by the popular Birendra Krishna Bhadra whose voice makes the recitation of the “Chandi Kavya” even more magnificent

Sept 19, 2017: Autumn is the season of the year that sees the Hindus, all geared up to celebrate some of the biggest festivals of India. The festive spirit in the Bengalis all enthused to prepare for the greatest of the festivals, the ‘Durga Puja’.

About Mahalaya:

Mahalaya is the auspicious occasion that marks the beginning of “Devipaksha” and the ending of “Pitripaksha,” and this year it is celebrated on September 19.

Observed exactly a week before the ‘Durga Puja’, Mahalaya is the harbinger of the arrival of Goddess Durga. It is celebrated to invoke the goddess possessing supreme power! The goddess is invited to descend on earth and she is welcomed with devotional songs and holy chants of mantras. On this day, the eye is drawn in the idols of the Goddess by the artisans marking the initiation of “Devipaksha”. Mahalaya arrives and the countdown to the Durga Puja begins!

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The day of Mahalaya bears supreme significance to the Bengalis. The day is immensely important because on this day people throng to the holy river Ganges in order to pay homage to their ancestors and forefathers. Clad in white dhotis, people offer prayers and take dips in the river while praying for their demised dear ones. The ritual is popular as “Torpon”.

Mahalaya
An idol-maker in progress of drawing the eye in the idol of the Goddess. Wikipedia

As per Hindu myth, on “Devipaksha”, the Gods and the Goddesses began their preparations to celebrate “Mahamaya” or Goddess Durga, who was brought upon by the trinity- Brahma, Vishnu, and Maheshwara; to annihilate the fierce demon king named Mahishasura. The captivating story of the Goddess defeating the demon got popularized with the goddess being revered as “Durgatinashini” or the one who banishes all the evils and miseries of the world. The victory of the Goddess is celebrated as ‘Durga Puja’.

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Mahalaya remains incomplete without the magical chanting of the scriptural verses from the ‘Chandi Kavya’ that is broadcasted at dawn in All India Radio in the form of a marvelous audio montage enthralling the souls of the Bengalis. Presented with wonderful devotional music, acoustic drama, and classical songs- the program is also translated to Hindi and played for the whole pan-Indian listeners.

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Mahalaya
Birendra Krishna Bhadra (1905-1991). Wikipedia

The program is inseparable from Mahalaya and has been going on for over six decades till date. The magic is induced by the popular Birendra Krishna Bhadra whose voice makes the recitation of the “Chandi Kavya” even more magnificent! He has been a legend and the dawn of Mahalaya turns insipid without the reverberating and enchanting voice of the legendary man.

Mahalaya will keep spreading the magic and setting the vigor of the greatest festival of the Bengalis- the Durga Puja, to worship the supreme Goddess, eternally.

                 “Yaa Devi Sarbabhuteshu, Shakti Rupena Sanhsthita,

                     Namastaswai Namastaswai Namastaswai Namo Namaha.”

– by Antara Kumar of NewsGram. Twitter: @ElaanaC

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New Rs 200 notes: It may take ATMs three months to dispense Rs 200

Will all the 2.25 lakh ATM machines across India would be recalibrated?

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Wait for 3 more months as ATM recalibration is not yet done
Wait for 3 more months as ATM recalibration is not yet done. Wikimeida
  • Reserve Bank of India (RBI) did issue a statement saying that the supply of the new Rs 200 notes would soon be ramped up
  • The entire process of recalibration can be completed within 90 days without affecting the regular functionality of ATMs to a large extent
  • The ATM companies said that they were expecting to receive official communication on recalibration of ATMs soon
New Delhi, September 4, 2017: While the RBI launched the new Rs 200 notes a week ago, it may take up to three months for ATMs to start dispensing the new denomination currency “new Rs 200 note” as it will involve a huge exercise of recalibration.

What are ATM companies saying about when will the new Rs 200 notes come into the market?

Some banks have even asked the ATM companies to begin testing the new Rs 200 notes for recalibration of the machines, though they have not got supplies of the new Rs 200 notes/ currency. Only last year, the banks were involved in the recalibration of ATM machines after the demonetization of high-value currency notes in November.
ATM manufacturing companies said that they have not received any directive from the RBI regarding the recalibration of ATMs for the new Rs 200 note. They disclosed that some banks have at an informal level have asked them to start testing of the new note since it is of a different size.

 

When will the supply of the new Rs 200 notes see an increase?

Reserve Bank of India (RBI) did issue a statement saying that the supply of the new Rs 200 notes would soon be ramped up but has not given any time-frame by which it will be available in adequate numbers.

 It is yet to be seen whether all the 2.25 lakh ATM machines across India would be recalibrated for dispensing the new Rs 200 notes.

 

 avi B Goyal, Chairman, and Managing Director, AGS Transact Technologies Limited, which claims to have an installed base of 60,000 ATMs, told IANS, “The process of recalibration will begin once we receive the directive from the RBI. The size of the new Rs 200 notes are different from the existing ones and so, once we receive the new Rs 200 notes, we will have to understand its dimensions and accordingly reconfigure the ATM cassettes. Next, we will have to check if the supply of new Rs 200 notes is good enough to run the cassettes at full capacity.”

 “The entire process of recalibration can be completed within 90 days without affecting the regular functionality of ATMs to a large extent. In fact, the ATMs will continue to be fully operational during recalibration and will continue to supply Rs 100, Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 denominations,” he said.

 

Among the other companies operating in the sector are NCR Corporation, which has over 1,08,000 machines, and BTI Payments, which has 4,500 cash dispensers. NCR Corporation said that while some banks have reached out to them to start testing of the new Rs 200 notes, they were yet to receive the supply to begin the process.

 “Banks have started getting in touch with us for testing the same “new Rs 200 notes”. They will let us know which machines they wish to configure for new rs 200 notes, which will require physical visits to ATMs. However, the new Rs 200 notes are still to be provided to us by the respective banks so that the testing can begin,” Anand Garollu, General Manager (Services), NCR Corporation said.

K. Srinivas, Managing Director, and CEO of BTI Payments, a RBI-licensed firm that operates cash dispensers not owned and managed by banks, said, “Recalibration will begin as and when we receive adequate quantity of new Rs 200 notes. We are looking to roll this out as quickly as possible.”

 He said that the industry was expecting new Rs 200 notes to be available over a period of time across various geographies.

 “The recalibration can be done progressively as and when the new denomination note starts to become available. Unlike the last time around (during demonetization), when we had to recalibrate all machines in one go,” Srinivas added.

 The ATM companies said that they were expecting to receive official communication on recalibration of ATMs soon. However, emails to RBI in this regard did not elicit any reply, they said.

 “The production of these “new Rs 200 notes” is being ramped up by the currency printing presses and over time, as more notes are printed, it will be distributed across the country through the banking channels and will be available for the public in adequate quantity,” the RBI had said in a statement.

 Currently, new Rs 200 notes are available only through select RBI offices and some banks.

While State Bank of India and Punjab National Bank are reported to have received the new Rs 200 notes, Eknath Baliga, Manager, KYC-Antimoney Laundering Cell, Corporation Bank, Mangalore, told IANS that none of its branches across the country had received the new Rs 200 notes so far.

The new Rs 200 notes are currently being printed only by RBI presses. Security Printing and Minting Corporation of India (SPMCIL) sources told IANS that the company has not received any indent so far for the printing of new Rs 200 notes. India’s two currency presses are owned by RBI and two by SPMCIL, which is a government-owned company.

 How ATM recalibration happens:

Usually, an ATM holds four cassettes — three of which can continue to be used for Rs 100, Rs 500, Rs 2,000, and the fourth cassette can be used for the new Rs 200 notes. On an average, each cassette has a capacity to hold 2,000-2,500 notes depending upon the quality of cash issued by banks. However, there are many ATMs that only have either two or three cassettes.

The number of slots in the ATM can be configured as per the bank’s preference. The banks decide which denomination needs to be configured in a machine on the basis of the customer profile in the area where the ATM is located and the number of transactions on that machine.

The banks need to make requisite changes at their ATM switch before the rollout of the physical recalibration at the ATMs in the field.

The recalibration of a new denomination takes 30-45 minutes per ATM. The process of recalibration is not very difficult but is time-consuming given an engineer has to visit every ATM and configure it to dispense the requisite denomination.

The introduction of the Rs 200 note has been welcomed as it would ease the currency circulation in the market as people prefer lower denomination cash withdrawals from ATMs. Rs 200 would also be more convenient for rural consumers. (IANS)