IMPACT | 15 November 2016
With Indians struggling to get cash after the government’s surprise decision to scrap 500 and 1,000 rupee notes overnight, ingenuity has come to the fore.
Be smarter, just barter
A tweet by a journalist that she had managed to buy vegetables after topping up her local vendor’s phone went viral over the weekend, with many extolling the virtues of good old-fashioned bartering.
India is a largely cash driven economy and many cities still rely on notes for essential transactions such as transport, buying fruit and vegetables from neighbourhood vendors and employing the services of plumbers, carpenters and electricians.
Other examples of bartering in the news include the exchange of 3kg (6lbs) of cauliflower for 1kg fish in a village in the eastern state of Orissa, where residents also say they have decided to stop selling their products in favour of exchanging them with one another until the crisis is over.
Soon after the currency ban was announced, there were reports that a shadowy “exchange economy” had sprung up, where you could get rid of your old notes, but at a slight loss or “discount”.
Certain agents began announcing “rates” at which they would accept the banned 500 and 1,000 rupee notes.
Although not ideal, this option has been surprisingly popular – both among people who have decided that they simply cannot stand in those long lines anymore, and those who presumably have a lot of money they want to get rid of without answering uncomfortable questions.
It certainly beats the other options that people have been resorting to, like burning sacks of money or throwing money in to the river.
Cash on credit
Some kind-hearted shopkeepers are not only giving desperate customers goods on credit, they are also lending them money.
One man said that he had approached his local store asking if he could get some groceries on credit because he had no money at home. Not only did the shop owner give him the goods, he also called him back and gave him 200 rupees in cash.
Many other people have had similar experiences with their neighbourhood shopkeepers, who have longstanding relationships with residents and are often the only source of legal tender in areas when banks run out of money.
Change change change
In many Indian cities, residents buy their fruits and vegetables from vendors who push them around on carts.
But in addition to produce, these vendors are also providing another essential service – accepting banned notes and exchanging them for legal tender saying they will change it at the bank themselves. This has helped solve an essential problem – which is that people technically have money, just not in notes anyone will accept.
Buy now, pay later
Many people are functioning on what some pundits are calling an “economy of trust” – that is they are providing goods and services and telling people to pay them later.
Some doctors have begun doing this with their patients, and an Indian newspaper reported that one tailor literally saved a wedding by giving the bride her entire trousseau on credit.