Mitron, it was a historic day. The Prime Minister had decided on a big ticket reform to rid India of all ills. The rich would be begging on streets, he hinted. The poor but honest would breathe more easily. Politicians and businessmen would have no black money left. Political parties would be selling coupons on street corners. Only the BJP would have money to contest the Uttar Pradesh election. In 50 days, Mitron, Ram Rajya would be visible. That was the hope held out. What does the common man say?
“Give me one example of a MP who doesn’t spend black money during elections. Black money sustains all elections but the government doesn’t pay any attention to it. Yet, it has cracked the whip on small businessmen and industrial units,” says Chandra Shekhar Sharma, chairman of Aligarh Talanagri Audyogik Association.
“Small industry owners operate on borrowed money and personal contacts. By treating them as hoarders of black money, the government has done a great injustice,” he fumes. Kaun beimaan hai?
Raj Kumar Verma of Raj Cottage Industry told NH, “I’ve seen a 70 per cent dip in business this Diwali due to demonetisation and GST. Earlier, my unit had ten workers but we now have two.” Aligarh had several thousand small units engaged in making locks and keys.
Bigger brands import lock parts from China and assemble here. But the ‘Swadeshi’ industry of Aligarh is gasping for air to survive.
The mood on the street is ugly. The consensus is that the Government wants to promote big business and allow smaller units to languish or wind up.
“After demonetisation, there is no certainty for how long the hard pressed small-scale enterprise,” said, Nek Ram Sharma, President, Tala Nagri Industrial Development Association, Aligarh.
S. Khurram Raza
It was unnerving to meet several adult men who seemed on the verge of breaking down. Demoralised and despondent and insecure, having to suffer indignity and humiliation, one of them said, “every day we die several deaths.”
“After my father passed away, I took over and things were fine till Demonetisation,” remembers Noman. He hurried off saying, “Life is tough. Earlier I used to lend money to my friends. Now they lend money to me.”
After paying off six of his workers in his unit, Arif would make ₹40,000-to ₹50,000 every month till October last year. A year later, he cannot afford the ₹1,500 required for a plaster on one of his arms. When we catch up with him, he was getting his arm bandaged by a quack.
He wistfully recalls that his workers received ₹15,000 per month, more than he earns now. His daughter had completed her MBA and the son was studying in class XII. “Notebandi ruined me. I have given out my unit on rent for ₹5,000 so that I can pay electricity charges.”
An exporter, Haji Asharaf Ali, confides, “This is the same Moradabad which would fetch ₹700 crore to ₹800 crore of foreign currency for India. Almost 60% of the material produced in Moradabad was exported abroad. But demonetisation affected smaller units which worked on parts of the product. Skilled workers left. Orders were not delivered on time and therefore dried up. And now, because of GST, even domestic trade has gone for a toss.”
Mohd. Akbar, Moradabad said: “I owe the bank ₹42,000 as interest alone. But my unit is closed and with my monthly income of ₹12,000, I don’t know how I can pay back the dues.”
Sudarshan Kumar remembers feeling happy upon hearing the PM’s address to the nation on November 8, 2016. He was at his ‘Chikankari Kaarkhana’ (workshop) and did not think demonetisation would affect him. A year later, he has shut down his workshop and works as a salesman. Chikankari is a traditional embroidery style believed to have been introduced by Noor Jahan, the wife of Mughal emperor Jehangir.
Sudarshan’s mother was a master embroiderer. After graduation, he set up the workshop for which he would secure orders while his mother and the dozen women he employed would deliver the products.
“In 2014, my mother died. But even those days I did not close the workshop even for a day. First, I had orders to deliver and secondly, I had people working who were trained and had to be paid.”
“But demonetisation broke my back. Orders dropped by almost 50 to 60 per cent.”
“Chikankari includes designing, engraving, embroidery and finishing and, for every step, we hire kaarigars who are paid in cash. Besides, I used to purchase raw material in cash…kaarigars stood by me for the first week or so. But as orders dried up, I was left with no option but to shut my unit down,” he says.
Sudarshan concludes: “Notebandi reduced me from a malik to a naukar. I don’t see any effect on big businessmen but small entrepreneurs like me have been driven out of business.”