PRIME Minister Narendra Modi has been saying all along that the demonetisation exercise was to help the poor as the black money sucked out of the system would ultimately benefit them. But facts on the ground speak otherwise. It is the common man who has been bearing the brunt of the move.
Reports of how people were either dying of shock or killing themselves out of frustration and stress or losing their lives because of not being able to get treatment as hospitals refused to accept old currency started pouring in from all over India after the demonetisation exercise began. There were uproarious scenes in Parliament too over the issue.
Two weeks into the demonetisation drive, opposition members insisted that some 70 deaths had been linked directly to the demonetisation announcement, but the government refuted the charge by saying that most of the deaths were from reasons not linked directly to demonetisation.
Over 25 deaths, mostly of the underprivileged, were reported in the week immediately after the announcement. On November 11, 73-year-old Vishwanath Vartak died waiting in a queue in front of the State Bank of India branch in Navghar in Mulund, a suburb of Mumbai. He was there to exchange old notes.
On November 15, 75-year-old Lakshminarayana went to deposit Rs.1.7 lakh he had saved in old currency over the last few years. He collapsed while waiting in a queue in front of the Andhra Bank branch in Marredpally, Secunderabad. He was rushed to hospital but was declared brought dead.
In the capital Delhi, Mohammad Shakil’s scrap business went for a spin following the demonetisation announcement. Unable to make ends meet, he killed himself. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) took up the matter, and Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia visited the family and offered help. The AAP also claimed that the entire demonetisation exercise was a huge scam worth lakhs of crores to force the common people to deposit their hard-earned money in banks so that the huge loans of big defaulters who were close to the Prime Minister could be waived or written off.
Ludhiana, the industrial hub of Punjab, reported four deaths in one week after November 8: two were suicides and two others died of cardiac arrest at the shock of losing their money. Lucky, 19, who was into ragpicking and recycling activity, hanged himself following financial hardship because of demonetisation; he had taken loans and had an ailing mother to look after.
Elsewhere, in a village called Mahua Mafi in Uttar Pradesh, an eight-year-old child died as his father could not buy petrol to drive him to hospital. He was carrying a Rs.1,000 note and the petrol pump refused to give him petrol because it had no “chhutta” (change).
In Surat, Gujarat, a 50-year-old woman killed herself in the week following the demonetisation announcement after she could not buy ration to feed her children. Reports of housewives going into shock because they thought that their hard-earned secret savings from household expenses had suddenly turned into scrap were also rife. An old woman in Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh, had saved up Rs.2,000, which she had exchanged into two Rs.1,000 notes only a day before the announcement. She died of a heart attack on hearing the news.
In Mainpuri, Uttar Pradesh, a one-year-old child died as a hospital refused him treatment because his father was carrying 500- and 1,000-denomination notes. This was despite the government’s instructions that hospitals can accept old currency.
In Hyderabad, a 55-year-old woman killed herself because she thought her savings of Rs.20,000 had gone waste. In West Bengal, a man killed his wife for returning empty-handed from an ATM. He thought she should have waited longer in the queue. In Kaimur Bihar, a 45-year-old man who feared that his daughter’s soon-to-be in-laws would not accept the Rs.35,000 dowry he had saved in old currency died of a heart attack.
In Kerala, in a freak accident, a 45-year-old man died after falling from the second floor of a building housing a bank branch where he had gone to deposit Rs.5 lakh he had saved in old currency. This was his second visit to the bank for the same purpose. In Chhattisgarh, a farmer killed himself after he failed to exchange his Rs.3,000 which he had saved to send to his children studying in Tamil Nadu.
Closer to the national capital, in Bulandshahar, a child died in Kailash Hospital, which is owned by Union Minister Mahesh Sharma, after the hospital refused treatment because the father was carrying Rs.10,000 in old currency.
Whether these deaths could directly be linked to the demonetisation announcement or not is a matter of debate, but there is no doubt that the unplanned move of the government was instrumental in the loss of many lives.