The overstretched bank staff across the country heaved a sigh of relief with one burden of demonetisation off their shoulders from Friday: That of exchanging old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes.
These notes can now be exchanged from the counters of the Reserve Bank of India alone, or can be deposited in banks. It’s a different matter that the employees of central bank have their fingers crossed.
“This one task was a major burden on us,” said a bank executive with New Delhi’s Saket branch of ICICI Bank. “Just for Rs 2,000, we had to verify identity proofs, with originals often missing, and the mark the index finger with ink. People were most reluctant with these procedures.”
The executive went on to explain that some people would come with the notification that said they could exchange up to Rs 4,000 and wouldn’t believe the bank staff when it would say that it stood reduced to Rs 2,000. “This often led to heated exchanges. It was a huge psychological burden.”
Following the announcement on demonetisation, the government had said that people could go to any bank with valid proof of identity and exchange their old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes up to a one-time limit of Rs 4,000.
This was then hiked to Rs 4,500, only to be slashed again to Rs 2,000, with the use of indelible ink to prevent multiple visits by people.
“We have been at the receiving end from people queuing up at our branch to get notes exchanged. Most bank staff can make out who is a genuine customer and who is fronting for others,” said Abhishek, an officer with a leading international bank in Chandigarh.
“I caught a man yesterday who had engaged a labour to stand in the queue to change currency for others. I had to warn him,” Abhishek told IANS, and echoing like others that the one-two banking staff that was deployed at exchange counters, would now be used for other tasks.
While latest data is unavailable, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had said on November 21 that banks exchanged old currency worth Rs 33,000 crore from November 10-18, and received deposits of Rs 511,565 crore. Also, Rs 103,316 crore was withdrawn from bank accounts and ATMs.
A senior official of a public sector bank in Chennai said that the process will also now begin to check if their bank staff colluded with tax evaders to exchange their old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes beyond the permissible limits.
“As far as the exchange of old notes goes, the queues had certainly reduced after the government made the application of indelible ink compulsory and cut the limit to Rs 2,000. But the problem does not end. The supply of currencies to banks has certainly reduced,” the official said.
Joydeb Dasgupta, President, UCO Bank Employees Association, also pointed out that the issue lay elsewhere. “The problem is with the shortage of currency notes. There’s a huge demand-supply gap in notes,” Dasgupta told IANS in Kolkata.
“Unless and until new notes are supplied adequately and re-calibration of ATMs is completed, bank employees’ plight will continue.”
The Reserve Bank of India’s Employees Association office bearers apprehended that the pressure on their colleagues will now be monumental after the removal of notes exchange in the commercials banks.
“The exchange of notes has been withdrawn from commercial banks only. It will continue at the counters of Reserve Bank of India. We apprehend the pressure of exchanging notes will flow towards RBI’s counters,” association Secretary Sudipta Saha Roy told IANS in Kolkata.
“In fact, we saw our counters were overcrowded for the last two weeks even though people were able to exchange their old notes at the commercial banks.”