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Demonetisation, blockade hit Manipur hard

 IMPHAL, Dec 5 - Demonetisation pangs have hit Manipur hard, dealing a double blow to the people who have been already struggling to cope with sky rocketing prices of essential items in view of over-a-month-old economic blockade.

With supplies of fuel severely restricted due to the blockade imposed by United Naga Council (UNC) opposing plans to create Sadar Hills and Jiribam districts, people in the State have been forced to stand in long queues not only in front of banks and ATMs as in the rest of India, but also at oil pumps only to get rationed petrol and diesel.

As the old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes became invalid during the peak of the harvesting season, many farmers are finding it difficult to pay daily wages of their contract agricultural labourers.

On the other hand, the labourers, who are mostly paid in the new Rs 2,000 denominations in groups, are up against a unique problem of not only receiving delayed payments forcing them to buy daily needs on credit at inflated prices but also struggling to find change in smaller denominations to distribute among themselves.

“It’s a big struggle. I had saved up money through the year in old denominations to pay wages for harvesting season and suddenly I am told those are invalid. The workers are not accepting those notes,” said Bor Singh, a tenant farmer.

Since months of hard work cannot be wasted, Singh said, “I have to find a way to pay them and get the paddy to the barn.”

Presenting a different facet of the demonetisation problem, Melem Ranjan, a worker who earns Rs 350 for a day’s toil in the paddy fields, said this harvesting season he has been forced to wait at least two to three days to get his earnings as the farm owner was also struggling to get adequate cash from banks due to withdrawal limitations.

“When you are a hand-to-mouth class, not getting day’s wage is a big blow but what can we do? We know it’s not the fault of the farm owner as everyone is facing problem, but for us it is a question of bringing back food for the family at the end of the day,” Ranjan added.

Away from the fields, as people stand in queues in front of banks and ATMs to withdraw limited amount of money they are also forced to undertake similar exercise in front of outlets where there is limited distribution of fuel, thanks to the economic blockade.

“The other day, people stood in queue overnight. They started queueing up in the afternoon itself when they got to know our station will distribute petrol the next day,” said Romesh Thokchom, an employee at a service station in the outskirts of Imphal.

The winter hasn’t deterred people from lining up their two-wheelers and four-wheelers overnight in front of oil pumps, a goverment employee said. Venting out, he said: “On one hand there is demonetisation and on the other it is the economic blockade which has resulted in even a kilogramme of potato costing Rs 60. How long will this go on?”

According to sources in the State’s trucking industry, problems have been compounded with transporters reluctant to send their vehicles for ferrying goods and essential items, mainly from Assam, despite police escort due to dangers associated with it.

Last month, blockade supporters had vandalised around 30 loaded trucks and tankers heading for Imphal along the NH 53 from Jiribam town in Manipur.

Ever since the blockade commenced on November 1, vehicular traffic, specially on NH 39, the main lifeline linking Manipur to the rest of India has been hit hard. “So the amount of fuel brought in to the State now is very limited and that is why there is a huge demand supply gap,” said the source. – PTI

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