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Forgotten land feels cash sting

Ayodhya Hills (Purulia), Nov. 25: Ghasiram Hansda, 50, believes that a “bad man called Mudi” is responsible for the meagre cash in his possession becoming junk.

The resident of a tribal village in the Ayodhya Hills in Purulia shows no signs of recognition when told the name is Narendra Modi and he is the Prime Minister of the country.

26mudi

Ghasiram Hansda in Usul Dungri village on the Ayodhya Hills.

Amenities and comforts of everyday life in the world beyond Ghasiram’s village have passed him by but nevertheless, he is feeling the pinch of demonetisation.

Ghasiram of Usul Dungri had sold a bundle of dry wood last week and got a 500-rupee note in return.

“I am unable to do anything with the money. No one in the market is accepting the note. I have heard that one bad man called Mudi has banned the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes across the country,” he says.

Ghasiram has a savings account in a nationalised bank at Baghmundi 20km away, in the foothills, but he has never been there.

He opened the account a year ago during a camp in his village under the Centre’s Jan-Dhan Yojana.

Usul Dungri, like the 73 other tribal villages in the forested areas of the Ayodhya Hills, does not have a television set or mobile phone connectivity.

From news heard on a radio set that four-five families share, Ghasiram has come to know that he can get the scrapped notes exchanged at a bank. But the problem is he is unlettered and cannot fill up deposit forms and withdrawal slips.

“I don’t know how to read and write. How can I fill up bank forms? I have three Rs 500 notes and will have to get them exchanged somehow,” he says.

Ghasiram sells dry logs he collects from the forest at the local haat (market) twice a week and earns between Rs 200 and Rs 300.

Ghasiram is not the only person to be affected by the demonetisation drive. Around 24,000 tribal people living in the 74 villages on the Ayodhya Hills are facing the same problem.

Most of them have bank accounts under the Jan-Dhan Yojana but like Ghasiram, they do not use them.

“We earn a measly amount and prefer to keep whatever little money we have at home. We don’t feel the need to maintain bank accounts. We usually sell dry wood and leaves and goats and hens in the local markets,” says Manasaram Mandi of Usul Dungri.

Manasaram has around Rs 3,000 in cash at home, including two Rs 500 notes. He says he will go to the bank at Baghmundi and exchange the Rs 500 notes. Last week, he had gone to the bank but was turned away because he was not carrying any identity proof.

“I was not aware that I would have to furnish identity proof to exchange the old notes. I will again go to the bank and ask the employees to help me fill up the form,” he says.

Most villages on the Ayodhya Hills are inaccessible by cars and in some cases, two-wheelers as well. The two nearest markets at Sirkabad and Baghmundi are 20km away.

Thakur Hansda, 50, of Shimul Bera village refuses to accept that the new Rs 2,000 notes are genuine. “Last week, one customer offered me a piece of pink paper and said it was a newly launched Rs 2,000 note. How can I believe that? I have never seen such a note earlier. I did not sell my goat to him,” Thakur says.

When the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes had been launched, the local administration, with the help of bank employees, had to conduct awareness camps in the Ayodhya Hills villages.

Told that Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of Bengal, was protesting the move to recall the old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, Thakur says he knows her as “Didi”.

“I don’t know what you mean by chief minister. But yes, I know Didi. I have seen her. She has visited this place,” he says.

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Ajit Hembram, 45, a roadside hotel owner, has his own problems to grapple with. Tourists are paying him in the scrapped notes and also in the Rs 2,000 bills, which Ajit thinks is play money.

“The tourists are giving me Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes, which I have to accept as they do not have enough Rs 100 notes. Some tourists are offering me what they claim are Rs 2,000 notes. I don’t believe they are real. They are play money. I know that Rs 2,000 is of higher value than Rs 1,000, so how can a Rs 2,000 note be smaller in size than a Rs 1,000 note?”

The chief of the Trinamul-run Purulia zilla parishad, Sristidhar Mahato, said he would ask the 12 gram panchayats in the Ayodhya Hills to organise awareness camps with the help of banks. “We will tell the residents about the Rs 2,000 notes,” he said.

Courtesy: The Telegraph-

ABHIJEET CHATTERJEE

http://www.telegraphindia.com/1161126/jsp/bengal/story_121396.jsp#.WDjp0bkudkg

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