Demonetisation – how some in the low income groups are dealing with it

One month of demonetisation has passed and the step is already being evaluated for success or failure. While it would be early to pass a judgment, there is no denying the fact that in the past month we have seen various side effects of the step.

The most visible of these is going cashless. And people have often wondered and worried how the people belonging to the low income groups, especially those around them like house helps, building guards, construction workers, etc. are coping with. However, not many of us might have taken the effort to talk to these people to know their problems and maybe help them.

But there are people who are doing that. OpIndia got in touch with Sukrta Foundation, a Mumbai based NGO that provides 2 hour weekly free medical clinic to house helps, drivers, guards, workers, etc. who live in and around Powai in Mumbai. Sukrta started as a small initiative, but after a year of good work, every Thursday, the organisation is receiving 50-60 people queued up to avail free medical services at the clinic organised by Sukrta Foundation at Powai. So far the team has conducted around 90 sessions of free clinic and have attended to some 4000+ patients.

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Vikas Goel (one of the founders) says that demonetisation didn’t lead to an abrupt increase in patient count at his clinic (assuming that the poor didn’t have new currency to spend at private hospitals, many of which were reportedly refusing to accept old notes). Last week, Sukrta went a step ahead and decided to talk to those coming at the clinic about their experiences post demonetisation.

On 1st December 2016, like any other Thursday, co-founder Surinder Gupta managed the patients while Dr. Nirmala Changrani patiently, attended to some 59 patients. This is when Sukrta team engaged with the waiting patients by talking to them about demonetisation. These are some of the experiences people shared:

“I don’t expect much difficulties because of note ban as Banks are accepting old notes till Dec end. She said even her kids’ school has allowed grace period till 30th Dec, which is a saving grace.” – Anita Naik, a housewife with a family income of 14K per month.

“I have applied for PAN card and now shall soon apply for a Bank account. Till then I have requested my uncle to deposit money in his account. I am a maid and got some advance salary from my employer in 100s. I am managing with my piggy bank.”  – Laxmi Mhatre, 32, a domestic help with a family income of 15k.

“My husband has a zero balance account and also ATM, now we shall start using it. He will get his salary late but hopefully in new currency notes. I think we can manage with cash shortage and things shall be normal soon.” – Salma Ismail, 27, whose husband binds books and family earns 7-8k per month.

“We don’t have a bank account, and we had to face difficulties as we exchanged 500 for 400. Now I will open account.” – Mamta Devi, 25, with a household income of 12k.

“Most of the ladies, who visited Sukrta Clinic said that they can manage with the cash-crunch in short term pain, however, will have to be dependent upon male members of the family for banking needs,” informed Saroj H, a volunteer with Sukrta who conducted these interviews.

A still from Sukrta Foundation
A still from the camp organised by Sukrta Foundation

Vikas told us that Sukrta Foundation doesn’t get government aid or sponsorship from any large corporate house. The organisation is run on small donations received from various good samaritans. People get to know about it through word of mouth or our social media campaigns and contribute to the causes we support. It costs them ~ Rs. 75 to treat one patient.

When asked, what excites the team to run the NGO, Vikas said, “We did some surveys in Powai and noted that many of the maids (domestic helps) didn’t have access to quality medical care. Whenever they or their family member fell sick, they would either avoid going to the Doctor or end up visiting some quacks. Even if they were able to visit government dispensaries, they were not able to procure medicines because of the high cost. In order to cater to this segment, we started our weekly clinic and dispensary.”

Apart from providing free clinic, Sukrta is also helping to educate people on social issues and how to manage finances in the post-demonetisation era. Not only they talked to the people about demonetisation, they invited Shalini Swaminathan, co-founder, Shamal, a self funded voluntary initiative to educate people about Adhaar, Bank Account, Insurance, Gold loans, etc.

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