Gloom pervades Kolkata’s trade hub a week into demonetisation

Kolkata, Nov 15 (IANS) Protests, trade called off, empty shops and an overwhelming sense of gloom pervade most parts of Burrabazar – one of Asia’s biggest wholesale markets here – a week into the Narendra Modi-led central government’s demonetisation move that has thrown the nation into a tizzy.

Many voiced their anger over the central government’s decision to spike 500 and 1,000 currency notes, but there were also those who firmly backed the NDA regime’s move.

Burrabazar, a century old wholesale market zone on the east bank of river Hoogly, stretches from Posta in the north to the famed office area BBD Bagh in central Kolkata, and does thousands of crore of business daily in its 34 katras (sub-markets) stocking fruits to vegetables, spices to jewellery and iron utensils.

On an early Tuesday morning, that otherwise would have buzzed with activity, Mechua Bazaar – the wholesale market for seasonal fruit – looked desolate with shuttered shops and hardly any buyers. Lines of empty trucks could be seen parked in the by-lanes of the fruit market while some traders huddled together at roadside tea stalls to discuss their future.

“Working class people like me are struggling the most. We have got no food in our stomachs or money in our pockets. I work as a labourer in the fruit market. I have no work for the last few days as the entire market is facing a steady decline since the currency ban,” Mohammad Ibrahim, a daily wage earner, told IANS.

On Tuesday, the fruit merchant association decided to call off the trade in protest against the government’s demonetisation decision on November 8. They also took out a rally with 500-odd fruit merchants wearing black badges as a symbolic protest.

“Our business is dying. People don’t have money to buy fruits. The few who do, are only carrying the spiked Rs 500 notes to the market which we legally can’t accept. Very soon the fruit market would be out of stock as we won’t be able to pay our suppliers,” said Sultan, who owns a shop of seasonal fruits like grapes and pomegranate.

The fruit merchants association members demanded that the government increase the upper limit of withdrawal from banks as they have to pay lump sum amounts to the suppliers daily.

“I have an expense of Rs 20,000 on a daily basis to run my business. But the government has now banned the higher value notes and limited the daily withdrawal to Rs 2,500 from ATMs and exchange of the spiked currency to Rs 4,500. Where do I go now!” complained a member who was part of the rally.

But the picture was somewhat different further into Brabourne road, where around 3,000 imitation and junk jewellery shops fill the alleys on both sides.

The IANS correspondent saw women of different age groups stopping by to check out new designs and get a good bargain for their coveted items. Some shopkeepers there supported the Centre’s demonetisation move saying they were ready to take a hit in their business for the ‘Acche Din’ (good days) that Prime Minister Modi has promised.

“Modiji’s move has brought the ultra-rich and the poor of the nation literally on the same plane. Now, everyone including the eminent politicians would have to stand in queue to withdraw money.

“We hope the move will cleanse our economy of black money and fake currency notes. We are with him on this issue,” said Waris Ali, a junk-jewellery seller.

“When a new road is built, you have to stop using it for some days. If you have a problem with that, the road would never be built. This move is like that,” another veteran shopkeeper said metaphorically, about the demonetisation.

However, the cloth merchants at Burrabazar’s Nandaram Market were far from ecstatic.

They said the government should have arranged sufficient number of Rs 100 denomination notes before banning the higher denominations.

“Look at our shops. It’s never been so empty since a fire broke out in Burrabazar in 2008. We have to send back buyers as they are coming with Rs 2,000 notes and we can’t give them the change. At the same time we can’t go the banks leaving our shops as that would consume four-five hours,” said a cloth trader, visibly disappointed with the current scenario.

“Black money is mostly used in election campaigns. I don’t think ministers would be ready to lose that.

“The big shots who have stashed their black money in foreign banks are untouched while the dearth in cash flow is killing cloth retailers like us,” Arun Kumar Singh, Assistant secretary of Calcutta Nandaram Market Welfare Association, told IANS.