Chaos and confusion prevailed outside the Reserve Bank of India building in Delhi on Wednesday. Many flocked to the building in the hope of getting their demonetised notes exchanged, and serpentine queues coiled around the building. Tension and confusion ran high as guards and officials turned away many either because they were not eligible for the extended deadline or not carrying necessary documents.
The government extended the deadline to deposit old notes for domicile residents, who were out of the country between 8 November and 30 December 2016 to March 31. For Non Resident Indians (NRIs), this deadline has been extended to June 30. Even these two groups of citizens are not allowed to ‘exchange’ their notes, but can deposit it in their accounts.
However, many who were not eligible to get their notes deposited reached the RBI building as early as 6am on Wednesday in the hope that they may get lucky.
While some had not had the time to get their notes exchanged by December 31, 2016, others were misinformed that the option to exchange notes at RBI applied to everyone.
“I broke my arm in November, and had to get surgery. I was in the hospital for most of November and in a cast all of December. I could not have gone to banks to get my notes exchanged. Now I was told that the RBI was exchanging the notes,” said Rajkumari Sharma, a woman who stood for over four hours in the queue.
Others were People of Indian Origin (PIOs), such as Chandra Kanta, who were not eligible for the scheme as they did not hold valid Indian passports. Kanta claims to have been standing in queue since 4 am only to be turned away. “Are we not Indians too?” she asked.
Even those who were eligible to get their notes exchanged were unaware of all the documentary requirements, and were being turned away at the gates. “I came back from Dubai in January. I have the documents to prove that I was outside India between November 8 and December 31, including entry and exit stamps on my passport. It is only when I reached here that I was told I had to get a letter stamped by the customs department claiming that I had brought the currency from abroad. Now how will I get this document?” asked Mohammed Noushad, a labourer who was turned away by officials.
There is currently a PIL in the Supreme Court regarding the deadline for people to get their old notes exchanged. The apex court had even pulled up the Centre earlier this month for not allowing the general public to exchange their notes till March 31. Though it was said that in cases with ‘genuine difficulties’ people would be allowed, however, the court had criticised that this was up to the government’s discretion.