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In Agra, ‘soles’ bear the burden of demonetisation

December 02, 2016 01:31 am | Updated 09:49 am IST - Agra

bleak Future:  Demonetisation has hit Agra’s unorganised shoe manufacturing industry, with a large number of workers being out of work. Seen above, workers at a manufacturing unit in Agra’s Qazi Pada.  Photo: Parvez Khan

bleak Future: Demonetisation has hit Agra’s unorganised shoe manufacturing industry, with a large number of workers being out of work. Seen above, workers at a manufacturing unit in Agra’s Qazi Pada. Photo: Parvez Khan

It is 2 p.m. A small workshop located in the extreme corner of Chakki Paat, a densely populated Dalit settlement which produces tens of thousands of shoes every day, is quiet. Of the 20-odd workers, only three karigars are showing the magic of their hands. On a normal day, they don’t get time to strike a conversation with each other, given that they have to produce 200 pairs of shoes at the end of the day. Ever since the demonetisation announcement, the workers at the unit have had no work, just like over three lakh workers associated with the city’s unorganised shoe manufacturing industry.

Lives paralysed

“Our lives have been pushed back by at least 10 years. The government has prevented us from withdrawing our own hard-earned money and thereby paralysed the shoe manufacturing units,” says Bharat Singh, the owner of the workshop. In Agra, families join hands with workers, mainly Dalits and Muslims, and set up small manufacturing units which work only on cash. There are 10,000 such workshops, located in Qazi Pada and Teela Nanadram, which produce over 10,00,000 pairs of shoes daily. The annual turnover is said to be Rs. 14,000 crore.

Agra itself contributes to 28 per cent of the national export and 65 per cent of the domestic consumption of shoes in the country.

For the past three weeks, Mr. Singh, a Dalit whose grandfather Bihari Singh had initially adopted an upper-caste title as a ‘protest against caste oppression’ and later converted to Buddhism when B.R. Ambedkar visited Agra in March 1956, has had to run not only his own house but also take care of his workers hit by demonetisation.

No demand

“We neither have cash to buy raw material, nor is there any demand for our products. After standing outside banks for half a day, we get just Rs. 5,000 instead of Rs. 50,000 a week,” adds Mr. Singh,.

Mr. Singh says the Modi government is harming poor and lower-middle class people. “The shoes we make are meant for poor and lower middle class people. If we are unable to make shoes during winters, the season when the poor need shoes the most, whom is the Modi government harming,” asks Mr. Singh, who is also associated with the unorganised sector shoe workers’ association in Agra.

Hari, a shoe-worker who went out of work after demonetisation, agrees with Mr. Singh. He worked at a workshop in Qazi Pada, but on Wednesday, he had no work.

“I was busy completing old orders. After demonetisation, there has been no work for me. I am thinking of pulling a rickshaw outside the railway station,” he says.

Impending crisis?

Upendra Singh of the Agra Shoe Manufacturing Association, which takes care of the interests of domestic and unorganised shoe manufacturing units, echoes the same views: “There is no one in Agra who is not dependent on the shoe manufacturing industry for their survival. If they go out of work for a longer period of time, a huge crisis will ensue,” he says.

Puran Dawar, chairman of the Chambers for Agra Footwear Manufacturers and Exporters, terms the digitisation of financial transactions a “good move”.

“The crisis is temporary. The government wants completely cashless mode of payments, and we want to do that because it will ensure minimum wages to workers as well as provident funds to them. But the government should give us some time so that we can get all the workers to have bank accounts,” he adds.

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