Millions of panicked people lined up outside banks and ATMs across India on Friday to exchange scrapped banknotes but chaos ensued for the second straight day with poor cash flow and no signs of immediate relief.
The government extended by 72 hours a window for using the old notes for specified purposes, including paying utility bills and taxes, and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) said it had “enough cash” to meet the demand.
But the announcements did little to assuage the increasingly-desperate people struggling to meet their daily needs with little money at hand following a shock decision by the government to scrap the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 banknotes in a bid to stamp out illegal cash.
Small business also appeared to suffer with street vendors selling ice cream, tea and snacks at iconic tourist locations such as India Gate disappearing overnight as people held on to their cash of smaller denomination.
ATMs reopened after two days but ran out of cash within hours. Banks struggled to handle the demand for exchanging withdrawn notes, raising tempers and sparking brawls with frustrated customers.
A couple from Italy said they walked more than three kilometres from their hotel in Paharganj in search of an ATM with cash.
Against an average of 125 daily transactions per ATM, about 800 to 1,000 people queued up at the kiosks on Friday, officials said.
“(The) practical problems are that most ATMs have a configuration of just one cassette of `100 rupee notes and one cassette has just Rs 2,500 notes which get over soon. Hence more cassettes are required to be added,” SBI chairman Arundhati Bhattacharya said. There are more than two lakh ATMs across the country.
The banks had initially promised a smooth transition to the new Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 notes but on the ground, the process has been chaotic. In Chandigarh, police had to deploy additional personnel outside banks as tempers rose.
Long queues and confusion allegedly claimed two lives in Kerala.
In Kerala, a 48-year old man, Unni, who came to deposit Rs 5 lakh in the State Bank of Travancore, died after falling down from the second floor of the building.
In Mumbai’s suburb of Mulund, Vishwanath Vartak, 73, who was standing in the queue before an SBI branch to exchange currency, collapsed and died on the spot.
Archana Singh, a housewife in Noida’s sector 120, said the “queues are getting longer”.
In Gurgaon, many returned empty handed as ATMs ran out of cash in a couple of hours.
Many expressed their anger at what they called poor management of the currency shake-up.
Bhawani Shankar Tripathy, a Sector 23A resident of Gurgaon complained about a lack of preparation at bank branches across the city.
“There should be more counters to deposit cash and to exchange notes”, he said.
But some of the worst hit people are those in smaller towns, villages and daily-wage earners with little access to the formal banking system.
Those with marriages scheduled in their families are also aggrieved by the decision that comes in the middle of the wedding season. In Madhya Pradesh’s Chhatarpur district, villagers looted a fair-price shop when the shop owner allegedly refused to accept old Rs 500 notes.
(With agency inputs)