In the past few weeks, there have been reports of various Indian states including Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana facing cash crunch. Latest to join these distressed states is Karnataka, with the state’s rural districts bearing the worst of the brunt.
This reporter travelled across districts in Karnataka and found that ATMs were running dry, leaving people upset as their daily lives got disrupted and businesses affect.
Facing the cash crunch
In border districts like Bidar especially, local traders complain that business is down by 70% in the absence of cash-availability and poorer penetration of POS machines (for card swiping) in rural areas.
"There are these street-vendors and flea-markets near old RTO office and other areas who don't have access to POS machines, unlike those in Bengaluru or other cities. It has been over a year but this district has not yet recovered from the brunt of demonetization. And now, this," said Santhosh, a bakery owner in Bidar.
According to Gulbarga-resident Rammanna, either the ATMs are running dry or shut. "It’s my money, why can’t I take it? Like cattle, people go in a herd to Asian Mall here and all they get is Rs 2000. But no one has the change for it! If we ask the bank officials, they blame their Bengaluru headquarters for not releasing money. What are we supposed to do?" he argues.
This reporter also spoke to people from Hassan, Raichur, Bagalkot, Bijapur, Belgaum, Gadag, Haveri and other places in Karnataka-Hyderabad region. They were found to be facing similar issues, and strongly criticized the government for poor cash management.
Hassan-resident Mohan, however, offered a silver lining – he said the cash flow from nationalized banks had improved this week in the city.
Meanwhile, at ATM outlets across these districts, scores of transaction slips saying bearing 'Unable to dispense cash' messages were found lying around.
Pre-poll precautions to blame?
Incidentally, Deputy Commissioner of Kalaburagi, R Venkatesh Kumar had said directed the bank managers to give details of the transaction above one lakh rupees by 7pm everyday as long as Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is in place.
While people have been presuming pre-election measures to be the immediate reason for cash-crunch, a banker from Haveri said that the end of the financial year is also the reason.
"We sympathise with the people, we understand that during summer a lot of weddings and events are held. But we ourselves are running short on over-the counter cash for couple of months. There has been no fresh currency infusion from RBI," Ramakanth Kini* said.
In a casual conversation, an official at an Election Commission checkpoint told this reporter that installing CCTVs at check-points and cash monitoring movement has aided their effort in curbing 'creative' illegal transaction preceding polls.
"In one case we came across a candidate who had dispersed unspecified amount in several of his supporters account and had directed them to retrieve it as per his direction from ATMs and distribute it to voters,” the official said. “It would be good if the people if they could briefly tolerate some inconvenience for the sake of fair elections," he added.
Last month, ECI data revealed that the Commission had seized hard cash of Rs 9.9 lakh, over 18 litres of liquor and 2.4kg gold. Besides, EC officials are also keeping a tab on the inventories of local traders for bulk movement of items such as pressure cookers, mixers, gas stoves, saris, jewellery that are commonly used by the candidates to woo the voters.
However, residents say that by depriving people from access to cash, the EC is making them vulnerable and people are more likely to be manipulated by political parties to vote in their favour.