Bengaluru, Dec 29 Millions of Indians, especially the honest and poor, became paupers overnight after Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes were suddenly scrapped on November 8, said veteran photographer K. Venkatesh who chronicled their saga through his camera over a month in a photo shoot.
"Ordinary people are the worst-hit by the resultant cash crunch as they face severe hardship daily for no fault of theirs," Venkatesh told IANS at the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishad in the city where he is holding a photo exhibition of ordinary folks waiting at banks for their hard-earned money.
With the new Rs 500 notes yet to reach many and the demand for Rs 100 and Rs 50 notes at an all-time high, posessing the new Rs 2,000 note has become a privilege due to rationing and hoarding despite difficulties in exchanging it.
"The objective of abolishing the higher-value notes, however good it may be in the long run, its shoddy implementation due to lack of alternative arrangements and advance preparation has unsettled the people in cities, towns and villages across the country," Venkatesh asserted.
As 86 per cent of the currency in circulation was in the old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, the photo expo reveals how their sudden ban not only crippled transactions but also deprived the citizens of livelihood as they have been denied or delayed access to their own money in cash.
Instead of the cash supply improving, the situation turned grim over the weeks, as hundreds of banks and thousands of their ATMs ran out of crisp notes due to limited supply from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and treasury chests of several banks drying up daily.
Though efforts were made to give relief to the hapless citizens by allowing them to deposit the banned notes in banks and post offices and get new notes in exchange for 50 days, an acute cash shortage turned waiting agonising for the old, harrowing for others and a nightmare for the young and women.
Through 60 select pictures, the ace lensman shows how common men and women have been facing the brunt of the currency chaos though they are in no way connected with the historic decision, taken ostensibly to curb black money, stamp out terror funding and eliminate fake currency.
"Failure of the government and its institutions in currency management and in curbing black money generated from unaccounted income and through unlawful means is forcing hundreds of innocent people to queue up daily at banks for hours to deposit old notes in exchange of the Rs 2,000 notes or soiled Rs 100, Rs 50, Rs 20 and Rs 10 notes," Venkatesh lamented.
Stringent curbs and limits imposed on cash withdrawals from banks and ATMs by customers of savings or current accounts have disrupted their normal life and affected their occupations, especially farming, trade, travel and what have you, he said.
Making identify proof a must to deposit banned notes in exchange of Rs 2,000 or lower value notes compounded the crisis, as the uninitiated and unfamiliar folks scrambled to produce IDs and photocopy them.
"Absence of new Rs 500 notes after its old version was withdrawn from circulation has made life miserable for all, as Rs 100 and Rs 50 notes became scarce and the Rs 2,000 pink note is not useful for even the lucky who get it from banks or ATMs, as there are no takers to exchange it for other notes," Venkatesh pointed out.
As the gravity and magnitude of the cash crunch unfolded across the country, it is the simple and rustic folks in the countryside who bear with fortitude the misfortune of having no access to their money as they don't have debit cards or small currency to buy even essentials for daily life.
As words cannot describe or express the untold misery that befell these poor by a midnight stroke on note ban, the pictures vividly capture the sad saga of ordinary people, the real Indians, displaying exemplary patience, tolerance and endurance in waiting hours for the elusive cash.
Shot over a month in and around Bengaluru, its nearby towns and villages, the photos reveal the plight of the common men and women who are the real victims of the note ban and not the rich and the well-to-do who have the means of using others or technology to get as much cash as they want, even in hard times.
"It is not only the old and young, men and women, farmers and physically challenged, traders, merchants, vendors but also pensioners, patients, widows and the poor illiterate who are made to struggle to get hold of a few notes, braving heat and dust, rain and cold, day in and day out," Venkatesh added.