On Tuesday, Usha Rani, a 37-year-old garment factory worker in Tirupur, skipped work and stood in a queue outside an SBI bank to withdraw money from her bank account. Her daily wage of Rs 400, which she lost, is “for the nation”, she chuckles.
Ever since factory owners decided to deposit the wages of their employees in their bank accounts, post demonetisation, workers such as Usha have had to queue up outside banks at this garment manufacturing hub in Tamil Nadu.
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In the largely cash-driven economy of this town, the owners’ decision has severely disrupted the lives of the over two lakh garment workers, majority of whom are usually handed their weekly salaries in cash on Saturdays.
“I was not able to feed my children and grandmother properly for three days. There is no milk at home and we couldn’t even buy tea during our breaks at work. Why should we go through this suffering?” asks Usha, a single mother of two who lives with her 90-year-old grandmother. She told The Indian Express that she doesn’t understand why the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes were scrapped when the government had no Rs 100 notes to replace them.
“I went to the State Bank of India (SBI) branch near the Tirupur old bus stand at 9.30 am on Tuesday. I finally managed to withdraw money at 4.45 pm. I didn’t believe his (the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s) promise that Rs 15 lakh would be deposited in our accounts when he came here for campaigning, but now I have lost my wage for the day. How will I pay my loan?” asked Usha, whose monthly wage varies from Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000, depending on the over-time hours she puts in.
Usha, however, has had it easier than other workers out of the banking system. In Tirupur, each unit has between 10 and 1,000 workers, which includes a large number of those paid in cash, without any formal contracts.
Among those is G Muneeswari, 42, who was paid Rs 500 in an old note on Saturday as she doesn’t have a bank account. “Factory supervisors are paying Rs 500 or Rs 1,000 to those who don’t have accounts, with the promise that they will pay the rest later. I lost my day’s wage of Rs 400 to exchange this old Rs 500,” said Muneeswari, who was in the queue on Tuesday.
The sheers numbers outside the banks have left its officials, who bear the brunt of the public ire, with little answers, said C P Krishnan, general secretary (Tamil Nadu) of the Bank Employees Federation of India (BEFI). “New 2,000 denomination notes haven’t made it to the ATMs as they are yet to be reconfigured to handle them. New 500 denomination notes haven’t arrived either. And the most essential 100 denomination currencies are in short supply. We have no clue on what basis this demonetisation was rolled out without zero preparation for a country with such a huge population,” he said.
A senior SBI official said their woes were compounded by the lack of Rs 100 denomination notes. “Workers have no clue on how to deal with a new Rs 2,000 note. Those experts who rolled out the plan should have had a basic understanding about how majority of the people live in India,” he said.
L Shanmugham, panchayat president of Thoravalur village near Tirupur who runs a garment export factory, said there was a complete break down in operations. “Workers have no cash to even get a glass of tea. There are hardly any Rs 10 or 20 or 100 notes. Many shop owners who were ready to sell items on credit have stopped it now as they too have run out of money. This is worse than a war situation,” said Shanmugham.