Long queues persisted outside banks and ATMs on Friday for the ninth day after high-value banknotes were demonetised, though the authorities maintained that the situation was improving.
Even as the political slugfest over the demonetisation drive escalated both inside and outside Parliament, banks struggled to manage the huge rush of people looking to exchange the scrapped Rs 500 and 1,000 notes and withdraw cash to meet their daily needs.
The few ATM machines that have been recalibrated to dispense the new Rs 500 and 2,000 notes too failed to ease the situation amid increased demand due to a cash crunch brought on by the crack down on black money.
However, finance minister Arun Jaitley maintained that the rush at banks had come down significantly and there was no panic over the situation.
Queues at some branches in the metros appeared a little shorter after indelible ink to prevent multiple exchanges began being used on Thursday. But the Election Commission has asked the government to ensure that the use of indelible ink in banks doesn’t affect the polling process in upcoming by-elections and assembly elections in several states.
With the government and RBI struggling to improve cash availability, small businesses — from vegetable vendors to dhabas and small grocery stores — that rely on cash were the worst hit.
Many daily labourers were rendered jobless after construction and other activities came to a standstill as supplies of raw materials were stalled. Truckers too were reportedly stranded on highways as drivers ran out of currency, affecting movement of goods in several parts of the country.
Several banks in Kolkata ran out of cash and shut doors early and ATMs in and around the city displayed “no cash” or “temporarily out of service” signs.
“I am here from Assam to pursue my MA from Calcutta University. My family sends money and I use my debit card to access it. The card has expired last week and I am unable to pay my bills. Neither am I able to withdraw anything because I do not have cheques. I am left with a few Rs 500 notes to exchange...I have to skip classes to come to bank every day for this,” said Anirban Burman.
Shortage of lower denomination notes has also hit state-run liquor outlets, vegetable markets and small vendors in Tamil Nadu.
“Shortage of small currency like Rs 100 or Rs 50 has crippled financial transactions,” said a customer at a public sector bank in Chennai.
A group of women affiliated to the All India Democratic Women Association performed symbolic last rites of an ATM in Coimbatore in protest against it not functioning.
In Kerala, the state government is hoping to deal with the cash crunch by depositing salaries of plantation and cash crops sector workers in the account of the district collectors, who in turn will disburse the money.