Couples are scrimping and scrounging every rupee to make the myriad payments that can’t be done online.

The big fat Indian wedding is on a diet thanks to the cash crunchImage for representation
news Demonetisation Wednesday, November 23, 2016 - 12:37

Vizag-based Anusha’s wedding was fixed late last month, for December 4. She knew preparing for the wedding in just over a month would be difficult. But after all the effort it took to convince her parents to let her marry out of caste, the couple thought it would be best to wrap up the wedding as soon as possible. 

Having conducted the prayers on November 8, Anusha’s family was geared to start preparations from the next day. However, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sudden announcement that evening about Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes being demonetized, their plans were thrown into a whirl. And then came the withdrawal limits.

“The provision to enable withdrawal of Rs 2.5 lakh came recently. We tried making as many payments as we could online,” Anusha says. However, when she went to old city in Hyderabad to buy bangles, the small shopkeepers didn’t have card swiping machines and were only accepting cash. 

So Anusha collected a stack of debit cards from family members and relatives, and withdrew Rs 2,000 on each. “Even then, I was hyper-aware of the restless people in the queue behind me,” she says.

India’s wedding industry is worth more than 100,000 crore rupees and is growing by 25%-30% annually, writes Usha Rani Das in Business Insider. And with the peak wedding season ongoing, demonetisation has spelled woes for families with couples getting married in the next two months.   

For Payel, a professor of Mathematics at IIT-Ranchi, and Mrinal Jana, an Assistant Professor at Dehradun, the cash crisis posed another problem – time management. With just a few days to go for their marriage and many preparations pending, the couple are forced to spend a considerable amount of time at banks to get their cash exchanged.

To balance out the cash crisis, the government gave some relief for families organising weddings, by allowing them to withdraw up to Rs 2.5 lakh. But it comes with several caveats:

The amount, allowed to be withdrawn till December 30, will have to be out of the balances at credit "as of close of business on November 8, 2016". The withdrawal can be made by either of the parents or the person getting married.

The withdrawal request has to be accompanied by evidence of the wedding (invitation card) and copies of receipts for advance payments already made – such as marriage hall booking and advance payments to caterers.

There should also be a list of people to whom the money will be paid – along with a declaration that they do not have bank accounts. Clearly, the conditions are quite tough for the Rs 2.5 lakh withdrawal.

For 27-year-old Sonia, the problem was the banks simply turning them away saying they could not give that much money. “We managed to make a few payments online. But the man who was supposed to provide the buses for transporting us and our guests insisted that we pay him the advance in cash,” she complains. Her wedding is scheduled for the end of January.

While the man agreed to an online payment after Sonia’s father spent a lot of time convincing him, she says that her father stays very tense these days. “He is worried about how we will manage to pay for smaller things like garlands and decorations. Even Rs 5,000-6,000 is not enough. I’m worried about his health,” she says. 

Even wedding planners are feeling the heat. "Clients are also telling us to cut down on the scale of events if we do not accept old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes," Subhadeep Banerjee, a Kolkata-based wedding planner, says.

In other cases, clients are either requesting wedding planners to take payments in old notes or delay them.

Noor Khan, co-founder of Bengaluru-based Wedding Tales, observes that NRI clients are faring better because most of their payments have already been done online. The local clients have been left in a lurch. “They are either asking to delay the payments or offering to pay in installments, because they can only exchange or withdraw a limited amount,” she explains. 

But it’s the smaller traders like flower vendors, who are the worst hit. Noor has started transacting with bigger vendors who can take online payments or cheques. However, Anjali Ratnam, who runs Rings and Roses with her parents, says that for decorations like that of the mandap, you cannot avoid going to the local flower market. 

“Most of our clients already withdrew money to pay for these vendors and are working people. They urge us to accept the payment in demonetised currency because they don’t have the time to stand in bank queues,” Anjali says. As a result, they often have to send their own office assistants to banks to deposit or exchange the notes. “The other day, he (the assistant) had to stand in line for five hours,” she says.

However, Noor says that people and vendors are generally considerate of the situation and are willing to make adjustments. “At the end of the day, they know it is for a wedding. I think everyone is just rallying together to make it happen as well as they can at this time,” she says.

 

(With inputs from Milinda Ghosh Roy, IANS)

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