Cash ban slims big fat weddings
Jatin Pal’s wedding was just days away and his family were finalizing plans for an extravagant multiday celebration — then Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi banned highdenomination notes overnight, casting a dark shadow over the festivities.
Within hours of Modi’s surprise Nov 8 announcement, 500 and 1,000 rupee ($7.25, $14.50) notes — some 85 percent of all cash in circulation — were withdrawn, leaving millions across the vast country out of pocket.
The move — described by the prime minister as a “surgical strike” against corruption and tax evasion — coincided with the start of India’s annual wedding season, when thousands marry during a three-month period deemed auspicious in the Hindu faith.
“We marry once and you try to make it memorable in every possible way. But the cash crunch is proving otherwise,” said Pal. “This has soured the happiness and left a bad feeling.”
Life savings are plowed into weddings in India, with a typical urban family spending up to $75,000 on celebrations, according to an estimate by Goldman Sachs.
Traders say almost all wedding-related purchases are traditionally made in cash from savings put aside over years — even decades — but that the currency ban means many families are being forced to cut back.
“Indian parents start planning and saving for the wedding as soon as a child is born,” Priyanka Gupta, owner of a bridal store told AFP, adding that she had seen a significant drop in business since the demonetization.
Delhi-based wedding planner Shrawan Kumar said most of his clients spend between 1.5 million and 2 million rupees, but that some had scaled back plans by as much as 40 percent. Others have simply decided to postpone or even cancel.
“I can’t pay the waiter, photographer, transport, florist, vegetable seller through checks. We are at a loss,” Kumar said.
Stubbornly long queues outside banks have become a ubiquitous sight across the country as the new rupee bills have been slow to get into circulation.
The government has put temporary restrictions on the amount of cash people can exchange or withdraw in an attempt to wean the country off cash and bring more into the formal — and taxable — banking sector.
Following outrage, the government allowed a one-time withdrawal of 250,000 rupees per wedding party to help cover costs — small fry for an Indian wedding.
But Pal’s father Ranbir said they had twice tried and failed to get the extra money under the scheme — which requires paperwork proving a wedding is in the works — and instead borrowed around 450,000 rupees from friends.
“We should be making arrangements for over 700 guests who will come to the wedding. Look what we are doing,” said Ranbir.
Madhur Jain, who runs a wedding card shop in Old Delhi, said he had received just three orders a week since the demonetization, down from an average of 30.
“The old notes are out and new notes are nowhere to be seen,” Jain told AFP.
But despite most customers paying in cash, bridal shop owner Gupta was quick to dismiss suggestions that so-called “black money” -unaccounted money — was involved in the industry.
“There is no black money involved in the weddings,” she said.
“More than anything this means shattered dreams of families (hoping) to celebrate an ideal wedding.”
We marry once and you try to make it memorable in every possible way.” Jatin Pal, groom-to-be.
An Indian vendor waits for customers in a shop supplying traditional wedding outfits in New Delhi. The government ban on highdenomination notes has forced many people to scaled back nuptials by as much as 40 percent.