NEW DELHI -- 35-year-old Mohammad Farooq and his wife Sakila Khatoon are facing a strange predicament following demonetisation. The entirety of their life savings, a sum they had painstakingly squirrelled away from Farooq riding a cycle rickshaw and cleaning cars, is now stuck in his wife's Jan Dhan account. They had been meaning to buy an e-rickshaw with it. Now they are facing questions.
Four days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the surprise demonetisation of ₹1,000 and ₹500 currency notes on 8 November, 2016, Sakila stood in line to deposit half of her life savings, worth ₹100,000 that were in the form of the now banned notes, in her Jan Dhan account in IDBI bank. She returned a few days later to deposit the rest. When she came back to withdraw ₹10,000 from her Jan Dhan account on 3 January, bank officials told her that her account had been "locked."
They had saved the money "locked" in the bank over four years to buy a battery-operated e-rickshaw for Farooq. After being diagnosed with a thyroid disorder, he had been advised by the doctor to stop plying the cycle rickshaw. Farooq needs the e-rickshaw to support his wife and three children aged 16, 13 and 10. "My hands would swell up and start trembling," he said. "The doctor advised me to get a mode of transport which does not put pressure on my chest."
Sakila was questioned by suspicious bank officials. They asked her where she got the money and if it belonged to someone else, she recalled. Since she had deposited the money in two instalments within a gap of a few days, they also asked her how she had managed to get more money in such a short span of time.
But it was the government which had set the ₹50,000 ceiling for deposits into Jan Dhan accounts as a precaution against misuse by black money hoarders.
In a conversation in their north Delhi home, Sakila and Farooq reiterated that the ₹1 lakh amount they had deposited was not black money, but their life savings.
Farooq, who hails from Darbhanga in Bihar, has lived and worked for most of life in Delhi. He first used to earn a living plying a rented cycle rickshaw and then bought his own for ₹10,000 in 2014. The family of five live in a small two-room house in a bylane in the Civil Lines locality.
It had taken lot of planning and patience to save the amount from Farooq's earnings. The rickshaw-wallah earns ₹300 to ₹400 on a given day. He makes another ₹5,000 every month, cleaning cars.
From this amount, Farooq and Sakila managed the household expenses, the electricity and water bill, and Hindi and Urdu tuitions for their children. Farooq's check-ups at a private hospital and medicines also added to the expenses.
"He has been in Delhi for 15 years and he could hardly save anything. He put together the ₹1,000 or ₹500 that was left every month," said Saikla.
"I've not visited my village for four years," added Farooq.
The couple had originally planned to buy the e-rickshaw on 12 November. That was before the prime minister's announcement on 8 November. But now, they just have to wait.
Bank officials have asked them to submit papers to open a general account to which their money will be transferred. "It could take six months. It could take one year. We don't know," said Sakila. "They have not given any guarantee."
Just last week, Farooq missed out on a great deal because his money is stuck. A second-hand e-rickshaw was on sale for ₹50,000. "I really wish we could have bought it," he said. "It would have solved all our problems."
Meanwhile, his customers have dwindled because of the cold weather and demonetisation. "People who used to take rickshaws now prefer to walk," he said.
In a message to Prime Minister Modi on demonetisation, Sakila said, "You might have done this with the best of intentions, but the poor are suffering."
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