No banks, no ATMs. How a Sunderbans island survives in the time of demonetisation

People wait for a boat at Ghoramara.

People wait for a boat at Ghoramara.

Over the past week, little cash has changed hands at Ghoramara, an island in the Sunderbans, that has no banks or ATMs. The boatman, the shopkeeper, the fish seller, and the woman running the ICDS centre use credit.

Ghoramara, which sits at the Hooghly’s meeting point with the Bay of Bengal, is famously sinking, slowly claimed by the sea. It has over 5,000 people and is one of West Bengal’s 700 gram panchayats without a banking facility.

During a 30-minute boat ride, Kalipada Karak, who runs Ghoramara Ferry Service, complains of a drop in passengers and flashes a yellow token that he is giving passengers instead of change.

“When someone gives me a 10-rupee note, I give this in return,” the boatman says. Rubi Mete, who runs the island’s ICDS centre serving 72 people including 51 children and 13 pregnant and nursing mothers, has to ensure food for a big group.

“There is no bank. I need at least Rs. 150 to go to Sagar (another island) to withdraw cash, but I don’t have that much money,” she says.

Ms. Mete has kept the centre going with public support — shopkeepers who sell on credit and villagers who offer produce on deferred payment.

The creditors include Kanai Lal Guchait, who has a small shop in Bagbazar area and has sold Rs. 1,500 worth of goods since morning. He expects that the credit will keep rising.

“This has been the story since Wednesday. I had some Rs. 500 notes, but had to go to Namkhana to get them exchanged,” Mr. Guchait said, showing a notebook where he has recorded every transaction. A few metres away, Amit Karak has spread fish for sale. No customers come and he pleads with Sankar Giri, another villager, to buy some fish on credit. Giri, who came to Karak’s rescue, points out that even if islanders want to help, they cannot.

Betel leaves wilt

Mr. Giri owns a betel plantation and the leaves are sold on the mainland. “We got Rs. 300 for a bundle of 100 leaves, but now no one is willing to pay even Rs. 100,” he laments. Ghoramara has a post office — the only place to deposit currency and make withdrawals. On Monday, it was closed for Guru Nanak Jayanti. Abhimanyu Mondal, the manager, says, “I have got 1.15 lakh rupees in denominations of 500 and 1,000. I have to record the number of every note before they are deposited at subdivision headquarters.”

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Printable version | Aug 15, 2022 12:36:29 am |