On Wednesday, MRA Aalappan, a wholesale trader in Chennai’s Koyambedu flower market , sat on a stool outside his empty shop reading a Tamil pamphlet sporting a large picture of Jayalalithaa. No flowers had been sold in his shop that day, since hardly any supplies had arrived that morning.
“Our business has been terribly hit this month,” said Aalappan. “First we had the Modi problem [demonetisation]. Then Amma died and the market has been affected for two days. Now we’re seeing that Cho [Ramaswamy, the editor] has died.”
“And who’s next? We are hearing that Kalaignar [DMK leader M Karunanidhi] is also unwell!” piped in one of Aalappan’s employees. “I just read somewhere that December is a terrible month for Tamil Nadu.”
Although there was a fair bit of bustle in the Koyambedu flower market on Wednesday afternoon, vendors said that business was dull. Since the market was shut on Tuesday to mourn the death of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, who had passed away the previous day, the flower traders had not received their usual load of supplies in the morning. Many shops like Aalappan’s were empty, and the rest were selling the flowers supplied on Monday.
“On other days, we get our supplies of flowers but we are unable to sell it,” said Aalappan. “Ever since the demonetisation scheme, we have had to either reduce our prices to sell them or throw unsold flowers away.”
Not much has changed
Aalappan has not been able to pay his labourers their wages this last month. Nor has S Ravichandran, who runs a flower garland business in the market place. “I have 40 labourers who work for me and I have to pay each of them at least Rs 300 a day,” said Ravichandran. “But business has been so bad that I sometimes pay them only Rs 50 a day.”
Ravichandran writes down the balance amount to be paid to every worker, and pays them as and when he gets cash. “I have to pay most of my workers for 20 to 30 days of work,” said Ravichandran.
He is still accepting old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes from customers to keep his business going, as he was doing over three weeks ago when he last spoke to this reporter.
“I have four bank accounts and all of them have just hardly more than Rs 1,000 together,” said Ravichandran.
Aalappan too complained of poor business ever since demonetisation. He said that although unpredictability and seasonal shifts are a part of the flower business, they had not seen such a low in a long time.
“Before, we used to earn around Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000 a month,” said Aalappan. “But now we are struggling to even make Rs 5,000 now.”
Hitting the source
Aalappan said that it wasn’t only his employees who were affected – the people who worked for the farmers who supplied him with flowers had also taken a knock.
“The earlier withdrawal limit of Rs 10,000 [from each bank account per week] was not even enough to manage my household,” said Aalappan. “Now the Rs 24,000 [increased limit] has made that easier, but it is not enough for business.”
The flower trader has to pay a sum of Rs 1 lakh to Rs 2 lakhs to the farmers in advance, so that they have money to tend to their fields, pay labourers and supply blooms throughout the season. But since they only accept cash, he is unable to give many of his suppliers their money. This means that the labourers who work on the fields to cut flowers are also not getting paid on time.
“We are affected, but they are probably worse off,” said Aalappan. “For some flowers like the marigold, it takes almost eight to ten months to cultivate them. Now is the time when they are sold in abundance, but the cash crunch has dampened the sales. Flowers are now perishing and going waste.”
Support for the scheme
Despite the harsh impact on his business, Aalappan said, “Modi’s scheme is a super scheme.”
He added: “It is a very good scheme to bring out black money. Everybody is suffering, so it is okay. He has said that the situation will be better in January, so let us see...”
This sentiment was shared by other flower sellers too.
“I have been told that it will bring out black money, so it must be good,” said SVT Shankar, whose business has also been affected by demonetisation.
An employee at CK Muthuraman’s shop, who had earlier expressed annoyance at the scheme, now grudgingly said that it might not be a bad idea in the long run.
“Thing are a little better now than at the beginning,” said one of his assistants. “But we still need those Rs 500 notes.”
Some others were stronger in support of the scheme.
“We need equality in our state and Modi is doing the right thing,” he said. “If you are going in a car, and I am walking along the road, you will ask me to move aside. But if I had a car too you wouldn’t be able to do that. That is how we should bring our state too.”