Friday, December 16, 2016

Cashless in Chennai...

(Image Courtesy Google images article)

When the Prime Minister  threw that googly to the billions on unsuspecting people on November 8th I was as puzzled as many others but since we live in a highly polarized country where the crazed fanatics bully every other point of view other than their own I kept my peace.

Today after Chennai was left shaken but not stirred by the cyclone Vardah I think it is time to speak out against the way this demonitization has been done. One of the four metros in the country from a highly developed and progressive state is now on its knees not because of the cyclone but what its after effects combined with this bitter pill called demonitization has done. Since the floods of last year the citizens of Chennai have discovered that they are a better people and they care for each other. They are also resilient to face up to what has been thrown at them.

Vardah left behind a trail of destruction that included uprooted trees, fallen cables (power and others), out of service mobile towers. The last two ensured that the city was without power and mobile network for the better part of three days now. This has also ensured that the current goal post of this demonitization exercise namely a cashless economy has got one tight slap across its face. The growing number of people who do not have money to buy milk, food, fuel and other essentials despite having money in the bank and multiple cards on hand, not to mention e-wallets and banking apps is a telling comment on how the government has messed up.

We have read enough about the muddled pointers and the shifting goalposts for this demonitization exercise but this seems to be the tipping point. People have accepted and endured the endless wait in the queues to get their hard earned legitimately earned and often tax paid money in the false hope of a greater good only to be slapped again with stories of wedding extravagances by ministers and colleagues of the teary eyed PM. The now routine unearthing of the scarce new notes from people across the country without any details of their origins shows that the mess ups are piling on.

When I first heard of this demonitization after the initial incredulity I thought that this government deserved a fair chance as this was a radical and revolutionary step which if done well could be a game changer. The first obvious gain would be to widen the tax base, far too long the poor salaried class carry the tax burden disproportionately of the country while the informal segment hides under various escape routes. Having worked with the informal segment for a few years now, it is a gross understatement to say that many will be earning in six digit sums and paying paltry sums or no tax because their incomes were never captured. By tracking the bank transactions there seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel. By recognizing their incomes and thereby legitimately taxing them, the much taxed salaried class could have got a welcome break. With this idea I waited only to be cheated repeatedly by faulty execution of a good plan.

How long will a parent accept that his / her inability to buy food for his child despite having money for the greater good? As I was typing this post the heart breaking news of a mother killing her two kids because she could not bear to hear her starving kids cry anymore as they had no money after the father had lost his daily wage job due to demonitization. Today the brash PM ignoring the plight of the common man and pushing his digital initiatives by announcing lottery schemes only serve to rub salt in the wounds of people.

While the government kept shifting their objectives for this exercise the blind fans kept bullying the detractors online with the anti-national card, publicly shaming those who could not suffer a little for the nation. My question to these blind men is when did the nation get separated from its citizens? How will the nation improve by killing its people?

What worries me is that public memory is fickle and it only needs another gargantuan step by the PM with his usual theatrics to sweep this move under the carpet. The collateral damage that has come about will also then be forgotten. From what has already been unleashed on the poor unsuspecting people, I am really worried about what else is in store.

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