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Collateral damage

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

Hundreds of people line up to change the weekly INR 1,500 limit by showing citizenship certificates at the Birganj branch of Nepal Rastra Bank. Picture: Jiyalal Sah

Just like Nepalis queued up to buy fuel last year, all over India people are now lining up to exchange their high-denomination currency notes.

In a shock move ostensibly aimed at weeding out black money, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes illegal and asking people to exchange them at banks within 50 days.

But banks failed to distribute sufficient low-denomination notes, and there is chaos, anger and frustration across India. And it has affected Nepal too like an aftershock of last year’s Indian blockade.

Early this week, Nepal’s business leaders met Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and asked him to provide exchange facility for the demonetised Indian notes in Nepal. Dahal then called Modi and sought necessary help.

But the estimated 2.5 million Nepali migrant workers in India are the hardest hit by demonetisation, and they are helpless and voiceless. “We cannot buy food with our hard-earned money,” says Baldev Bhattarai of Dadeldhura, who has been working in Punjab.”If I go to exchange money, I lose my income. If I do not go, I have no money to buy anything,” he added.

Irrespective of their nationalities, those who hold Indian bank accounts can exchange the demonetised rupee up to IRs 250,000. They can also withdraw money up to IRs 4,000 every week. But Nepali migrant workers in India do not have hold bank accounts, and rely on others to exchange their money.

Devraj Air, President of All India Nepali Migrant Workers’ Society, says: “Those who hold Indian bank accounts are ready to help, but they give us only IRs for 400 for every Rs 500. We have lost so much money.”

After the demonetisation, Nepali migrant workers are now being exploited more at the border. They cannot cross into Nepal, and exchange money at Nepali banks. They are forced to exchange before crossing the border, and get only IRs 300 for every IRs 500.

“Indian police are also extorting us,” said Krishna Oli of Bajura, who returned home this week from Delhi. “If they see demonetised currency with us, they take us to nearby Indian money exchangers who give us only half the amount.”

Bachchu BK 

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