Saturday, November 19, 2016

Demonetization & Rural economy

In the mid 1960s, India faced a severe food shortage (mainly in Bihar) and nearly escaped from a major famine. Prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri started lots of policy initiatives to curb food shortages and such initiatives in turn paved the way of Green Revolution. When India was throttled again economically in 1990, and that's what changed the country forever. The opinion of researcher Suyash Rai at the National Institute for Public Finance and Policy and Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania on black economy is required to understand the depth of the situation.

The announcement of demonetization of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes came on 8th November 2016. Problem in rural economy had appeared as Kharif harvest is sold in hard cash, an investment is required for Rabi season and marriages in community will happen in this time of year. Farmers, landless labourers, domestic servants, pensioners, small traders, all these and many other groups have taken a terrible hit  First, there is huge liquidity crunch in the informal and rural sector. The effects is felt by both supply and demand side.

The MFI industry is a cash intensive with its large network base of 3.2 crore clients in India. Most of the borrowers take loans in cash and they repay loans in cash. MFI operations will be most affected due to this decision as there are for lot of women with loans between Rs 10000 to Rs 50000. The disbursements will be delayed and collections drops can lead to situation of operational paralysis in the rural sector. Even then fight for market share could lead to weakening of credit appraisal standards for achieving required sales target. Such conditions for the failure of the industry to defer payments temporarily will be milked by political class. MFI sector has already shown relative slowness towards going ‘cashless’. This can be attributed to fact that India is among the most cash-intensive economies in the world with a cash-to-GDP ratio of 12%, almost four times as much as other markets such as Brazil (3.93%), Mexico (5.3%) and South Africa (3.73%) .

There is huge requirements of seeds, fertiliser and pesticides for Rabi season. The farmer will be forced to buy on credit or take loan from informal credit sources at exorbitant interest rates. Even with decent monsoon rains, the farmers is willing to invest heavily this year as they were hit by drought in 2014 and 2015. Government has allowed withdrawal limit to Rs 25000 for the farmers but this will not solve problem as rural banks are already overloaded with responsibilities of exchange. Many people simply do not have active bank accounts and even ATMs are working under capacity.  A lot of housewives, artisans, and workers may have cash lying with them at home. This isn't part of hoarded illegal money but a traditional way of saving money for women without seeking permission from husband or other family members. This little amount, concealed from everyone, usually grows as time passes and is used in the time of needs. This revelation isn't "small price to pay" and can't be termed as collateral damage in fight against black money. This kind of policy debate ignoring women leads to is a less empathetic society .

The chaos spread in this time will be used by black money hoarders in rural areas too. The illegal exchange of currency notes with lesser monetary value notes will be the first move of brokers. Brokers will use KYC of common man for siphoning of money into Jan Dhan Accounts of illiterate populace for small time. The main challenge will be of cash logistics for banks in far and remote places. Rural economy will be forced to run on deferred payments and barter system for few months. Rice, wheat and other staple crops will be used as exchange currency. The slowdown of economy will wipe out a large number of small entrepreneurs from the market. There is an urgent need to tackle middleman-transporter nexus in this scenario that has always dominated rural marketplace. The issue with farm in India is not that farm income is exempt from tax but farmers don't even have to report it. The small traders in villages have agriculture land holdings and always can show the illicit wealth as farm income.

The short term effect will be slowdown of economy and hence a reverse exodus of labour will happen in upcoming months. NREGA expenditure must be increased in this financial years as there is lot of rural populace who have no asset base and mainly depend on wage labour as their primary source of income. MNREGS, ICDS and even NRHM are only source of livelihood for many women in an already crippled rural economy, with little avenues for non-agrarian work is fast depleting with the effect of demonetization.

The long term effects of this policy decision will surely lead to both innovation and protest. Most labour intensive businesses (such as tea-gardens, factories, transporters, cab services, construction and civil engineering works and so on) pay wages in cash. There will be impact on the mode of payment in near future. There will be promotion of financial transactions using digital, paper-less modes like mobile money, mobile wallets, debit cards, ATMs, and ePOS machines. MFI sector is focused on credit and maybe some insurance with , while the m-banking world is focused on transfers and payments with sophisticated back end systems. There will be convergence between them to avoid such situation again. MFI, customer and banks will ultimately move towards unison as a part of the financial inclusion drive of the government.

Reform is often waylaid by hidden priorities and even slow when implemented fairly. There is always unwanted effects due to complex nature in rolling out any new scheme. Structural reform in 90's have proven this mantra and the long term actions taken in cleansing financial sector by current government is no exception. There was always an urgent need to have radical changes keeping ten years time ahead. A strategy can't be sought with incremental thinking by the state. RuPay, Payment banks, Demonetization, Aadhar Cards & Jan Dhan Yojna has brought up winds of disruption and innovation through technology, regulations and government action, will fundamentally alter the banking sector. The future will belong to those who show speed, imagination and the boldness to embrace change towards cashless economy and targeting BOP clientele.

Still, I will argue that a rationally argued cause-and-effect connection within the limits of the evidence is required from experts, as it is essential to investigate facts while debunking fantasy element spread in social media. India has to understand and address positive changes, failures and externalities of demonetization drive in rural economy.

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This Blog is meant purely as a personal diary of a rural manager in making. It exists to record information, experiences and opinions about various issues encountered in the line of duty. Any person, institution and organization mentioned here doesn't assume any liability for its contents. This is not a deliberate attempt to defame anyone. And if you have actually read all that is written in the blog and aren't mad at me, then thanks for your time and patience !

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