A casual glance in to ones wallet and one would wonder where the 50 Paisa and 1 Rupee coins have disappeared. These once ubiquitous coins in the wallets, have today somehow slowly, but definitely, seem to have gotten lost amongst the bunch of bigger, yet lighter currencies, and plastic monies stuffed in their place. Is this any indication that one has graduated from transacting in such smaller currencies? Or is it just that these currencies are much less than their metal value owing to inflation and hence are  economically meaningless?

There is no doubt that there are many gradations of response one could get to these questions. Those 85% of the country's population, who have been just lucky to have gotten their foot on the first rung of development ladder, still transact in these denominations -whether it is buying confectionery, biscuits, shampoo sachet or gutka. However, for those in the higher rungs of the economic growth it is probably deemed shameful to transact in any non-plastic currency let alone such lowly denominations. I might be here accused of discounting those who still keep a bunch of these coins only to fling them occasionally at beggars crowding their cars in the traffic lights, probably not knowing that traffic department in their city has issued a notice forbidding motorists to give to beggars. But, is this act of charity inspired because their hearts are touched by the deprivation in a world of plenty or because they believe in superstitious cleansing of their sins?  

For now, the more important question is what about those poorest of poor in constant hunger and illness fighting for survival every moment? How would Farida Bibi, a landless woman with three-children who dream of food all the time, look at the same one rupee coin? Could the one rupee have saved the 12-year old Kolkatta girl? How would, who died of starvation in Rajasthan, have seen the same currency? Would the skeletal figures lying listlessly, who knew that that death could only be postponed by a few hours with the little food that this could probably buy, glow at the sight of this currency?

However, the same one rupee has been attracting the attention of marketers from financial services to FMCG to telecom to even matrimonial services, to bridge an untapped market. While the effort from the businesses such as HLL in serving the "consumption" class of the poor is commendable, the question is whether this unidimensional approach any enough? What about those who are chronically hungry and lack access to basic amenities and who have never had a purchasing power of any kind? Can the corporates afford to turn a blind to these who struggle to get a foot on the first rung of development ladder?

~ Santosh

09/08/2010 23:04

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