Keshu Singh Patel, 56, was nowhere to be seen at Indore’s flower market on 7 November, 2017, 364 days after the government’s decision to invalidate Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. Repeated calls to his cell phone by this reporter were answered with the message: “The number you are dialling is switched off.”
On the morning of 8 November, 2017, IndiaSpend found Patel plucking marigold flowers on his farm in Mirjapur, near Indore, the commercial capital of Madhya Pradesh. “The phone isn’t working since the past 20 days,” said Patel. “It can’t be repaired and we don’t have the money to buy a new one right now.”
Patel’s predicament underscores the difficulty small farmers face in moving to digital payments, which have increased overall over the past year. Many farmers do not own a smartphone — 1 billion people across India do not — so they cannot access mobile banking services or internet-based payment systems.
Last year, IndiaSpend had spent a day with Patel to understand the impact of demonetisation or, notebandi as it is locally known. Because of lack of cash in the market, flower prices stayed low even in the wedding season, leading to a loss of 70 percent of Patel’s usual income between the months of October and January.
One year after the decision to invalidate overnight Rs 14 lakh crore – or 86 percent by value of Indian currency in circulation — IndiaSpend visited Patel and the Indore flower market to know whether there were any lasting effects of the move.
Cash still most important, don’t use cards or cheques for payments
Patel is one of 118.6 million Indian farmers, as the Census recorded in 2011 – equivalent to the population of the Philippines. As many as 9.8 million farmers live and work in Madhya Pradesh, one of India’s poorest states. Patel is a “small farmer”, as he has about 2.5 acres of land, less than the average land held by an Indian farmer (2.84 acres), according to the agricultural census of 2010-11, as IndiaSpend reported in December 2016.
This year, Patel first sold onions, which he said sold at a rate lower than what he had expected. But the main problem he faced, he said, was that traders would insist they pay him via cheque, some of them post dated. “It would take 4-5 days for the money to come into the bank account, and then we would have to go and withdraw from the bank,” he said. For everyday transactions which would barely amount to Rs 500-1,000, including paying for the transport of produce, engaging with the banking system was more trouble than it was worth.
“First you go to the bank to deposit the cheque,” said Patel. “When you go back to withdraw money, they will sometimes tell you the signature doesn’t match, sometimes you will be asked to get the Aadhaar card.” He said his older brother who lives in the same village sold about 25 quintal of soyabean at Rs 2,300-2,400 per quintal about five days ago, but the money hasn’t reflected in his account yet.
The Madhya Pradesh government had said farmers could be paid upto Rs 50,000 in cash, but reports said farmers were still being paid by cheque.
“We need money immediately if some disease attacks our crops. If we don’t spray the davai (insecticide or fungicide) immediately, it causes us a loss,” said Patel. This year, a part of Patel’s marigold crop withered due to a disease he calls “kapadia”, similar to blight, which blackens leaves and withers flowers.
When asked whether he uses a card to make payments at the local grocery store, Patel is at a loss. He said grocery shops don’t have a card, that his bank doesn’t give him a card – only cash – and then that he only has a bank account. His son, Kantilal, explains that he owns a card he uses only to withdraw money from the ATM, but right now they have no money in the bank.
Prices currently low in the market, but not because of notebandi
It is a period of low prices at the mandi (market), not because of any lasting effects of notebandi, but because of the usual ups and downs in the market, said Shabbir Abbasi, 52, a worker at Bharat flowers at the Indore mandi. “Prices should go up in some days as the wedding season begins,” he said.
Patel hasn’t started regularly selling his produce of marigold and chrysanthemums at the market – he said he will start in a couple of days as his produce matures and prices go up.
“There is no money in the market. I don’t know why,” said Champalal Kehlewad, 47, a farmer who sells his produce — flowers, soyabean, potatoes, other vegetables — at the Indore market. “It’s like even nature isn’t supporting the current government,” he said, giving the example of poor monsoons this year.
Small transactions by cash, only big traders use cheques
“I still don’t have a bank account,” said Jagganath Mahadeo Bhuyyer, who goes by the name Bhausahab, and owns a flower shop in the mandi. He had told IndiaSpend last year that it was too much trouble to start and operate a bank account. “But I am going to open an account tomorrow, on Wednesday, which is an auspicious day,” he said. He said he was selling his house, and he would put money from the sale into the account.