Thousands of people lined up outside banks and ATMs across India on Tuesday, a day after a bank holiday left people stranded with no way to access cash or exchange money.
The queues in front of ATMs were longer as people feared the machines will run out of money soon, a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the scrapping of Rs 1000 and Rs 500 notes to drain illegal cash from the economy.
“Why did they allow banks to stay shut 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.
In West Bengal and the Northeast, reports poured in that ATMs in many remote areas haven’t been restocked since November 9 -- a day after the demonitisation scheme was announced.
“You can’t depend on ATMs as they are running out of money in no time. But when I came at 7:30 am I was standing in a queue behind more than 50 people,” said Ashish Poddar a school teacher in south Kolkata.
Many traders and middlemen in Assam and other parts of Northeast resorted to earning commission to exchange 500 and 1000 rupee notes with those of smaller denomination.The Assam Tribune reported that small traders in eastern Mizoram resorted to using paper coupons to trade due to scarcity of currency notes of lower denominations.
In Hyderabad, many travellers said bus operaters were accepting devalued currency but not returning the change. Other passengers said they had to go hungry for hours as they had no change to buy even snacks and tea Suryapet. “Our business has come down by 70 per cent,” lamented Laxman, the supplier at a roadside restaurant.
In Allahabad, ATMs evacuated of old notes are still being loaded with the 100, and 500 and 2000 . So, the ATMs are not expected to function smoothly for one more week, said a senior bank officer Ashwini Tewari.
This bank holiday has clearly hit the government’s plans to ease the currency flow: It will take time to load notes in ATMs on Tuesday morning and the government’s easing of restrictions on small businesses and certain rural sectors will add to the rush of people at bank counters.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley had 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 the states and union territories, Monday was a bank holiday. Banks were open in some states, including Gujarat, Tripura, Mizoram, Goa and Kerala.
A few state-run bank branches operated with skeletal staff on Monday, said a banker with the State Bank of India.
“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.
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.
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 for work.
In Mumbai, the cash crunch has hit autorickshaw 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 loaded cash in more vans than usual on Sunday so that they could pump the money into the ATMs on Monday. Still, it was enough to meet just a fraction of the demand.
In smaller towns such as Karnal, it was even worse with people scrambling to find ATMS which had cash in them.
With ATMs drying up, little children in many homes have turned out to be saviours, thanks to their piggy banks. The change they saved has helped their parents buy grocery.
If the chaos worsens on Tuesday, criticism that the government was underprepared to manage the demonetisation exercise will grow.
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