A bank holiday in about 18 states and dry ATMs on Monday exacerbated the agony of those in desperate need to exchange demonetized currency and sparked fears of a monstrous rush when the banks reopen on Tuesday.
A few state-run banks ran skeletal branches on Monday, said a banker with the State Bank of India. Banks were also open in Gujarat, Tripura, Mizoram, Goa and Kerala among others.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley on Saturday assured people that banks would operate at full capacity on November 14 in states where Guru Nanak’s birthday is not a holiday. But in more than half of Indian states and union territories, Monday was a bank holiday.
“Our bank branches are operational in 18 states to serve the customers uninterrupted after the demonetisation was announced,” an Axis Bank spokesperson told Hindustan Times.
Monday’s holiday might throw the entire process of currency circulation out of gear. It may also take more time to replenish ATMs once they reopen on Tuesday, leading to more chaos.
This bank holiday is one of the many contingencies that government, perhaps, had not foreseen before the demonetisation announcement on November 8.
The time required to recalibrate ATMs to dispense Rs 2000 notes, the absence of new currency notes Rs 500 for the first 5 days, the repeated extensions of the deadline and additions to the list of places to use old currency notes, give credence to the theory of government’s unpreparedness.
In New Delhi, people who had planned to queue up outside ATMs early in the morning, had to return disappointed as shutters at many locations were down.
“Why did they allow the bank to shut down when they know how people are struggling to even buy basic grocery items? How long are they going to take us for granted? I woke up at 4:30 am to rush to the ATM so as to avoid queues, but did not get cash anywhere,” Ankit Girdhar, a resident of south Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar said.
ATMs inside metro stations in the national capital also disappointed those who made a dash for cash early morning.
People commuting to work were the most affected as they were hoping to withdraw some money before starting out
In Mumbai, the cash crunch has hit Mumbai’s auto rickshaws and cab drivers. Drivers of black and yellow taxis, three-wheelers and taxi fleets complained of falling business as people are avoiding travel due to lack of liquid cash.
In Kolkata, authorities of most banks stacked up a few cash vans on Sunday beyond their daily quota, so that they could pump the money in the ATMs on Monday. Still, it was only a fraction of the need of the common people.
It was a similar story in Chandigarh with ATMs running out of money.
In smaller towns such as Karnal, it was even worse with people scrambling to find ATMs which had cash in them.
But while dry ATMs drove customers up the wall, little children in many homes have turned out to be saviours, thanks to their piggy banks.