Cruel Jokes Called Demonetization And Cashless Economy in Rural Jharkhand

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It was that time of the year 2016, when I badly wanted the year to end without any further trouble. I just wished to leave all my worries and the problems behind, and to usher New Year 2017 with a new clean slate. Fortunately, I was not alone. Many fellow Indians were sailing on the same boat, and most of us were navigating in the man-made choppy water in India, with no land in sight.

Oh yes, it was one of those cold times, when more than 50 days had passed since the surprise announcement of Demonetization by our Prime-Minister. But its troubling ripples are still being felt across the country by almost everyone. Demonetization is indeed a watershed moment in the economic history of modern India. Curiously, the citizens’ opinions were extremely divided on this little inconvenience called Demonetization exercise, depending off-course on their political viewpoints. And that’s ironical, as political consideration has thrown economic common-sense out of the window. Although, what else we could do, to grin, to bear the consequences and express our opinions on the matter.

Anyway, on that bright sunny morning on a winter day, I tagged along with my family and left Ranchi for Netrahat. After, we had left Ranchi; we passed Nagri, which boasts of one of the biggest vegetable markets of the district. We could see scores of vegetable farmers selling their perishable items. My polite enquiry about the fate of their business in post-Demonetization period opened a can of worms. The lack of buyers had hit them hard and the prices of their farm-goods had plunged for the worse. They all earnestly hoped that their situations will improve in the New Year. When I talked about cashless transactions and plastic money, their angry expressions duly conveyed their reluctance. None of them want the introduction cashless transactions in their business. It’s a big NO.

Itki Haat (Pic Courtesy: jsamb)

Moving on, we made our next pit-stop at a cousin’s Fuel Station in Itki, after we had refuelled our vehicles, we noticed that they were willing to accept the plastic money and even e-payments. When I asked the manager about the same, he said, “When our government can withdraw Rs. 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes all of a sudden, we decided to move towards cashless economy. Now we are better prepared for such shocking news.” Although, he further clarified that their major sales of fuels comes from Trucks and Buses, both of them like to make cash payments; so their technological up-gradation steps were merely a fail-safe measures.

We took his leave and headed towards Netarhat. As long as, we were driving on the national highway, the roads were in much better shape. But as soon as we drove into the interiors of the state, both the condition of roads as well as the mobile connectivity started deteriorating. In fact, to put it mildly, the state highway between Ghaghra and Bishunpur was in very poor condition. And after we reached Bishunpur, our mobile networks had vanished, we were told only one mobile service (BSNL) works in that part of the remote area.

Anyway, we took our lunch break at the camp office of a NGO in Bishunpur. Amusingly, we had to make cash payments for the food, as this NGO (closely affiliated to BJP and RSS) didn’t have any facility to accept the e-payments or the plastic money. When I asked them about supporting cashless economy, one of the care-takers laughed, he mocked, “Please look at the ground realities here. Bishunpur doesn’t have decent supply of electricity as well as the mobile network.” I replied teasingly, “Why don’t you ask your BJP Government to improve basic infrastructure here?” And they didn’t say anything, they just smiled.

Well, then we bid goodbyes and drove out of the NGO’s office. We had hardly driven 10 metres that we were informed that there is big road-blockade on the main Bishunpur road right in front of the Block Development Office (BDO) and local Police Station; it was being carried out by the locals and they were not letting any vehicle go past them. We and co-travellers to Netarhat were genuinely worried, in couple of hours the sun was going to disappear and none of us wanted to travel in the night-time in the areas dominated by the armed left-wing extremists (Maoists/Naxals). Even the unofficial travel advisory warns against taking such a huge risk in these areas. So, I, my mother and the local driver walked up to the people who were blocking the state highway, to talk to them.

Fluently speaking in local Chotanagpuri dialect, my mother asked the women agitators, “What’s the issue? Why are you blocking the road?” The hundreds of native ladies from the nearby villages were happy to hear someone speaking in their language, asking about their travails. One of the ladies stepped up and informed us, “We have not received kerosene-oil for last couple of weeks from a fair priced shop. For poor farmers like us, without the kerosene, it’s very difficult to manage our kitchen and the farming needs. Even BDO isn’t listening to us.” After understanding their plights, we requested them to let our vehicles pass and in turn we will try to sort their problems. The native ladies agreed. We called up our local acquaintances, who in turn requested BDO to try and mitigate their hardships. Gratefully, the agitators allowed our vehicles to pass while the rows of buses, trucks and the private vehicles on both sides of the huge road blockage waited patiently.

At that time, I just wished for a magic wand and a little bit of power to resolve such trivial administrative matters that adversely affects the lives of underprivileged people living in the rural areas of our Jharkhand state. I could only imagine their sorry plights, as they silently battle the irresponsive government machinery that refuses to listen and learn about their day-to-day problems. It does seem like a rather cruel idea that the Government is unable to provide Kerosene to its needy rural folks but wants them to go cashless. It reminded me of the famous incident: “When the peasants had no bread in France, the Queen Marie Antoinette reportedly said, let them eat cake.” And that’s my present day Jharkhand.

Bishunpur is also a home of Tana Bhagat community, the ardent followers of Gandhi Ji and his philosophical thoughts. The demonetization policy does not really the think about the poorest of the poor living in our midst, and that’s a tragedy.

Here, in my Jharkhand state, our BJP Governments, both at Central and State levels, are forcibly pushing their “Demonetization” down the throat of the reluctant poor citizens. Chief Minister of Jharkhand had set two deadlines, viz., December 31st 2016 and March 31st 2017, to push for the “Cashless Economy” in the Blocks and then in the entire Jharkhand state, respectively. But, I do not see that happening under the present circumstances. These thoughtless ideas of Demonetization and the cashless-economy is all set to die, when these hare-brained-idea hits the harsh ground realities of the basic infrastructure in my poverty-stricken state.

Soon, we started to transverse and ascend the hilly Ghaghra-Netarhat road to Netarhat. The condition of roads in the valley was pathetic. The deep craters and the huge potholes on the roads continued to send severe shock-waves to all of us. Couple of years ago, when I had travelled on the same wretched roads, at that we were promised by the bureaucrat in charge of Roads’ construction in Jharkhand state that the quality of roads will improve after the new government takes over. However, it seems the promises are meant to be broken, and it is no different. Why should those who travel on Choppers give a dam about the state highways with deep cracks?

Governments which can’t even provide decent Highways in Jharkhand, but talks too big about introducing so called Digital-Highways in our state, where even the basic infrastructure is conspicuous by their absence. It’s bizarre.

Nevertheless, our expert and experienced drivers, well versed in the driving in Jharkhand state, finally saw us through and drove us to the one of the most famous hill stations of our state and aptly named the “Queen of Chotanagpur”. This picturesque plateau is about 6.4 km long, 4 km wide and located at the height of about 3800 feet. Covered with the lush green pine and the cypress forest; it’s a popular hill station but still it’s far-far away from the maddening crowd. Netarhat seemed like a perfect weekend getaway, as we wanted bit of serenity and calmness in our lives. Here, once again the mobile and internet networks vanished into the thin air. However, we didn’t have time to ponder about that, as we had to rush to the famous Magnolia sunset point to bid goodbye to the sun.

Magnolia Sunset Point at Netarhat

As I watched the sun go down in the distant horizon and the scary darkness taking over our world; I could not help but wonder about the recent events and silently pray for the dawn of a new day and a much better New Year.

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Sameer Bhagat

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Social-Activist. Author of SALVAGING ADIDWEEP.


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