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India’s ‘black money’ cleanup fuels new cash streams for a controversial start-up

India's ban on 500 and 1,000 rupee notes might have sent the country into chaos, but it's opened up a new revenue stream for one Delhi-based start-up.

The new rules in India has led to people queuing up in banks for hours to exchange their old currency. However, this new start-up - called Book My Chotu - lets users hire "chotus" – an Indian term used for a little boy or girl who works as a helper in shops and households – to stand in the queue for up to eight hours.

While the company, on its website, makes it fairly clear that all "chotus" are above the age of 18 years, the website's branding has received a massive backlash on social media, with a number of users calling it "insensitive" and "insulting" to children who are still part of a massive child labor industry in India. The company's chief executive officer thinks the criticism is unnecessary.

"I think any publicity is good publicity," Satjeet Singh Bedi, founder and chief executive officer of Book My Chotu, told CNBC via telephone.

"There are a lot of people criticizing the name but what they don't understand is that it is a simple service to help people. It is a small step towards helping the government and helping the common man."

Indians queuing to exchange bank notes after the government introduced demonetization in November, 2016
Indians queuing to exchange bank notes after the government introduced demonetization in November, 2016

The company on its website states that "chotu" is just a name and the same is being used for branding purposes. "We have no intentions to hurt anyone's sentiments. All chotus/helpers are above the age of 18 and they have no objection with this name."

But, it continues to see a great deal of criticism from users on social media who have expressed shock and disappointment over the company's choice of branding.

The company's CEO iterated that the branding has nothing to do with the concept of child labor.

"We are completely against child labor. It is a branding name for us. All our helpers are above 18 years. The name comes out of emotional attachment. You would call 'chotu' to your younger brother and younger sister. Ever since I launched the venture, my dad calls me 'chotu'."

Earlier this month, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the radical step to demonetize the currency notes in order to tackle the rampant problem of so-called "black money" - billions of dollars' worth of cash in unaccounted wealth and fake currency notes. The government has decided to introduce a new 500 rupee note and also introduce a higher denomination banknote of 2,000 rupees.

However, ever since the announcement on November 8, thousands of people have been waiting outside banks to exchange old currency notes for new ones. While analysts and celebrities across the country have applauded this move, the crowds have been getting more and more restless with every passing day.

ong queues at Bank of Baroda at Shakarpur branch on November 10, 2016 in New Delhi, India.
Ravi Choudhary | Hindustan Times | Getty Images
ong queues at Bank of Baroda at Shakarpur branch on November 10, 2016 in New Delhi, India.

Book My Chotu lets you hire a helper for 90 India rupees ($1.30) per hour – for a maximum of eight hours to stand in the queue on your behalf.

"Are you short of cash? Need a helper to stand in queue of the bank/ATM till the time your turn comes?" the company said in a Facebook post, further explaining that these helpers will not go inside the banks but will only stand in the queue in order to save time and effort.

Meanwhile, the service, available only in Delhi at the moment, has also been applauded by a number of people who have called this a "smart way to create employment in the time of crisis."

The company's CEO told CNBC that it is reaching out to investors and nobody seems to have shown reservation because of the controversial branding.

"I met someone at Snapdeal and gave my business card and the person saw 'chotu' and immediately looked at me smiled. I am sure he will remember me," Bedi said.