At 3 pm on a Sunday afternoon, K Paneerselvam sat on a stone platform at Chennai’s Koyambedu market amidst a heap of unsold flowers that were slowly beginning to wear a rather wilted look. At regular intervals, he sprinkled water on yellow marigolds and pink chrysanthemums as their petals turned brown.

But with barely any customers coming his way, he knew that he would have to throw away mounds of already-perishing flowers by the next morning.

Hardly a week after the central government announced that Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes would not be legal tender on November 9, the wholesale goods market in this area of Chennai has seen a drastic fall in sales, especially in flowers. The cash squeeze caused by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement on Tuesday has made it very difficult for flower sellers to provide change for higher denomination notes, losing customers in the process. As a result, the dustbin in the market compound is filled to the brim with wilted flowers. There are also piles of cast-away flowers in piles by the footpath.

Nearly 360 tonnes of wilted flowers – roses, lilies, asters and jasmine, among them – were dumped in Koyambedu in the past week, reported The Times of India.
Tonnes of flowers going to waste.
Tonnes of flowers going to waste.

Plummeting prices

“Last week, I was selling one kilogram of marigold for Rs 60,” said Paneerselvam, whose business has shrunk by 75% since Wednesday. “Now people hardly have money in hand. So I am ready to sell it at Rs. 10 per kilogram, just to earn something by the day’s end.”

Some of the flower sellers were even accepting the demonetised currency notes. S Ravichandran, the owner of a garland shop in the market place, said that if he did not accept the old notes, he would have absolutely no sales.

“If you sit by my shop for one hour, you will see the number of people who hand us the old notes of Rs 500s and Rs 1,000,” said Ravichandran. “And they don’t want us to give back change in the old notes.”

Ravichandran is still accepting old notes.
Ravichandran is still accepting old notes.

Garlands that are usually sold for the price of Rs 500 have now been slashed down to Rs 200, he said. Besides, Ravichandran’s customers were offering the new Rs 2000 notes for garlands valued at Rs 200. Providing change for a note of this large denomination was proving to be a big hassle, especially when customers were demanding change only in Rs 100 notes.

“I also have to give my shop attendants their daily wage,” said Ravichandran. “But on days when we don’t get to many customers, I need to either put a temporary hold on the flowers that I have ordered, or a hold on the wages of my employees.”

The Koyambedu flower market.
The Koyambedu flower market.

Mounds of waste

In the backyard of the market place, K Murugan and P Dasarathan sat under a small makeshift tent with about a dozen baskets, each with 40 kilograms of marigolds. These flowers had arrived from Bangalore at 3 am but had remained unsold all day.

“If we cannot sell them by tomorrow morning, we will have to dump all of them,” said Murugan. “We will also have to bear the cost of all of these flowers.”

Like many of the wholesale flower vendors in the Koyambedu market, Murugan and Dasarathan pay a deposit of around Rs one lakh to the farmers every season, and receive 10% of whatever sales they have made every day as commission. The rest of the money is paid to the farmers.

But now with the cash squeeze, most of their flowers lie unsold.

“We are accepting old notes only from our regular customers,” said Dasarathan. “If we take old notes from others and give them change, then we have none to give our regular customers. They may not come to our shop tomorrow.”

Dasarathan's unsold flowers.
Dasarathan's unsold flowers.

CK Muthuraman, another flower shop owner, is worried about how he will pay his next installment of Rs one lakh to the farmers who provide him goods – since it will not be easy to withdraw such a large amount of cash from the bank in the next one month.

“It is with this advance money that the farmers buy seeds and pay their labourers,” said Muthuraman. ” Now how can I give the money to them? How will the labourers get money?”

But Muthuraman had more immediate problems. Scores of packets of wilting flower petals were stacked up in his shop, with no buyers.

As his assistants stared at these packets gloomily, one of them lightened up suddenly and laughed, “We should now send all these flowers to Modi. Let him have them.”

Muthuraman's unsold packets of flower petals.
Muthuraman's unsold packets of flower petals.