Mahoba, Uttar Pradesh: By 9 am, the line outside a bank in Bundelkhand in central Uttar Pradesh is staggering. Bihari Das is exhausted. He walked ten kilometres to get to this bank – for the fourth day in a row. “It’s incredibly frustrating for me. I can’t afford to do this each day, but I have to,” said the 65-year-old farmer. Each time he has made his exacting journey to the bank, the cash has run out before he could get his turn.
What he is desperate for is 10,000 rupees so he can buy fertilizer needed for the crops he has just planted in his village. For the first time in years, Bundelkhand, full of small farms, received, for the most part, a good monsoon. Bihari Das moved quickly, counting on a reprieve from the drought that has seared the region.
And then the government decided to outlaw 500 and 1,000 rupee notes. The sudden shortage of currency means farmers are struggling to get seeds and fertilizer needed to sow the winter crop. Others have invested already in ploughing their land, prepping it for seeding – and cannot afford delays now in moving ahead.
At 10 am, there are about 400 people waiting with Bihari Das, most of them poor farmers from nearby villages. Yesterday, the government said farmers can withdraw up to Rs. 25,000 a week against crop loans.
Though the bank manager has arrived, the branch has still not opened. Anger rises as word trickles down the line that the bank has no money at all. “Do you think I am lying? That we are all lying? Do you think we don’t need the money? Come to our villages and see what we are going through,” says a farmer named Dilshad Khan.
Minutes later, the fears prove warranted. Farmers are informed that there are no notes to hand out. Vikrant Dubey, the lead cashier at the bank, says he’s trying to arrange for more money to be brought in. “I am doing 13 hours shifts everyday. I am trying by best but this shortage of cash- what can we do?” he asks.
Other officials say that the bank last received money two days ago – 15 lakhs in new notes, and that ran out yesterday.