On August 29, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) released its annual report card for 2017-2018, summing up, among others, the after-effects of demonetisation two years on. The primary objective of the report is to highlight the 99.3 percent of demonetised currency notes making its way back into the banking systems. In simple words, as opposed to the Rs 15.41 lakh crores estimated to be circulating in the Indian economy at the time this policy was announced, Rs 15.31 lakh crore is now with the banking regulator.
However, there are key takeaways that point to the fact that despite the push for a cashless economy, the Indian love for cash transactions hasn’t really disappeared. However, digital transactions have inevitably become a go-to option for many (rise of 45 percent by volume and 29 percent by value, according to the report).
VICE turns its head towards the youth from across the country—from a 21-year-old writer who was stranded in Dharamsala when demonetisation struck or a a 22-year-old drug dealer to a 31-year-old businessman from Guwahati in the tea and oil industry—to revisit the struggles back then, and see if and how they have changed the way they spend their money today.
“My friend and I figured that tax practitioners and bank managers had loopholes to easily convert old notes into new ones. We even played middlemen for a company, and were offered a commission just for doing that!”
— Mark D’souza*, 23, student
“I was in the middle of an internship in the small town of Mcleodganj, Dharamsala when demonetisation hit, which made accessing money much harder. This was especially hard food-wise because restaurants wouldn’t even accept cards. I had to spend hours waiting in ATM and bank queues, and even had to walk long distances or take an overcrowded jeep to towns with banks and ATMs because I couldn’t even afford a cab back then to get to these places.”
— Sweta Fernandes, 21, content writer
“Demonetisation happened at the peak of music festival season across the country, which really affected the entire music industry since most payments are usually made in cash and no one had access to large quantities of it. While bookings dropped at the time and a major show in Mumbai which I was a part of had to be cancelled, the scene is still just as flush with cash as before.”
— Deepak Mehta*, 27, DJ
“Demonetisation barely affected the drug scene in Pune. Old notes and even Paytm was accepted, and a lot of it was either converted into bitcoins or used to buy more drugs so there was a steady supply.”
— Raju Sharma*, 22, dealer
“I work on a project basis in Delhi, managing the display for places like restaurants and mithai shops, so demonetisation created a lot of problems in getting these jobs, especially at local places. But, I still don’t use Paytm or a credit card because I’d rather exchange cash than deal with any technical issues.”
—Rohit Sodhi, 23, Refrigeration worker
“I work in Guwahati with companies that operate with tea and oil, which requires for us to deal with the transport sector, such as teas coming to and from the gardens. In oil, there’s the deliveries of barrels to various other industries and that’s where our clientele is. After demonetisation, the transport sector here took one of the biggest hits. You can’t expect a truck driver to carry cards; additionally, there are expenses along the routes, apart from other expenses. We tried going cashless as much as possible by relying on netbanking et cetera, something we didn’t do much earlier, at least for transactions of this nature. There are always transactions that aren’t possible in cash. It was a big pain. A lot of my clients are also in the steel and cement companies. They were hit too. Demand shrunk! However, Guwahati was one of the better off cities after demonetisation in terms of dispensing money at banks and ATMs worked faster.”
—Vikramaditya Banerjee, 31, businessman
“My transactions with local vendors were restricted. My family had to shift to online grocery shopping for four months since most shops at the local market in Santacruz East, Mumbai (where I live) were shut because no one had cash. We were moving homes so that required for all the payments to be made in cheques and cards as much as we could. The worst was the medical emergencies—we even went days without medicines because ordering online had issues. I also had to pay my house help and others advance salaries to ensure they were not affected. Even though I became a proponent of cashless transactions long before demonetisation hit—three years back—demonetisation did get me more used to cashless transaction.”
—Megha Kuchu, 30, professional
“Demonetisation is a joke gone too far because just devaluing a higher denomination note is not enough to fight tax evasion. Money spent through cards does not pinch as much as handing over cash. It seems like a grand conspiracy to me, especially with the Prime Minister's photo promoting Paytm on the front page of a national daily.”
— Abhishek Nair, 21, filmmaker
“Demonetisation did not change the way I live my life or spend money. But I belong to a privileged minority who lives in a metro city, is familiar with and uses electronic currency pretty frequently and has relatives who work in banks. However, data protection, of which there was no framework in India, is now a big problem. Suddenly, there was a huge amount of people’s transaction data floating in the world without any safeguards for misuse. I met a group of women workers in Big Bazaar trying to exchange their meal coupons for groceries in the store, looking bewildered in the setting. So used to telling the kirana guy what they want, they didn’t know what to do in a place where you could pick things off shelves! Met an Uber driver whose daughter accidently revealed his card details and OTP to hackers, making him lose 22K, probably his monthly earnings, in a day. My parents, who accept only cash payments in their small clinic in Lucknow, lost a lot of patients because of no cash. No one expected two people who never handled debit and credit cards in their life to set up a card machine in their clinic overnight.”
—Shivangi Narayan, 33, PhD scholar, New Delhi
*Names changed on request