Vijay, a 55-year-old casual worker who seeks work every day standing at one of the 50-odd labour markets or chowktis in Jaipur, says, a few days after the demonetization announcement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 8, he was thrown out of out of the small room he lived in with his wife as he failed to pay his rent.
“I am living on the street for the last 10 days. My wife is unwell, and I have no money to take her to hospital. We even canceled my sister’s marriage”, he complains.
Another worker, Jamilan Yaju, who stands at the chowkti at Dadi Ka Fatak says, following Modi's demonetization move, his mother died, “as she was ill and we did not have money for her treatment... We don't have money to eat bread with salt.”
These are just two of the responses from the 737 casual labourers,interviewed between December 20 and 23, spread over 20 chowktis by 64 students from 13 different law colleges and universities in a People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) report, “Impact of Demonetization on Casual Labour at the Chowktis of Jaipur.”
The report states, “More than half the respondents stated that even relations within family or outside have been impacted adversely. A little over quarter of total respondents have faced the brunt of the demonetization as they have suffered on account of health, education of children, lack of housing, cancellation of marriages and so on. ”
According to the report, during the pre-demonetization period 57.7% workers would get employment at chowtkis, as against 35.4% during the post-demonetization period, adding, “Excluding rare exceptions all the respondents reported loss of work and incomes.”
The report further says, “Over 90% reported either less income or no income at all. Almost 11% reported zero incomes during the last ten days from the date of survey”, adding, “Many reported that the payments were made in old notes whose value had depreciated in the market and thus they could exchange these old notes at a reduced value of up to 25 to 30%.”
In fact, if the report is to be believed, “Most of the workers said that an old Rs 500 note fetched Rs 350 to 400 and Rs 1000 note about Rs 700. Not only that, even payment in new Rs 2000 note fetched only 1800 in smaller denomination notes due to paucity of change.”
Then, says the report, “The income also eroded because of rise in staple food items like wheat flour. Responses suggest that the price of wheat flour which hovered around Rs 20 a kilogram shot up to Rs 25 or more a kilo post demonetization.”
In fact, notes the report, “Not only that the current income has been knocked off considerably, there is also strain on future incomes, both directly and indirectly. Due to lack of jobs and incomes, many workers having low income base have been forced to take small survival loans from moneylenders at a high rate of 5% a month for bare survival.”
Overal, the report states, “Almost two-thirds of workers reported that they are facing problems related to payment of wages. About 90% of all responses indicate that there has been negative impact on food intake. For about 20 percent the impact has been huge. People reported having slept hungry for days; having starved; surviving on bread and tea and biscuits; eating at akshay patra; having just one meal a day and so on.”