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New cash norms fail to bring respite as half the ATMs still run dry

black money crackdown Updated: Jan 02, 2017 23:55 IST
Mahua Venkatesh
Mahua Venkatesh
Hindustan Times, New Delhi

People queue up outside Punjab and Sind Bank Bank ATM to withdraw cash near Connaught Place in New Delhi.(Virendra Singh Gosain/HT Photo)

The Reserve Bank of India may have increased the ATM withdrawal limit to Rs 4,500 but almost half of the machines are still running dry as cash is in short supply, bank officials and unions have said.

Cities such as Delhi and Mumbai, however, have fared better because of the greater focus on replenishing the ATMs.

The central bank announced the increase in withdrawal limit on December 30, the last day for depositing the scrapped Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. It was also the day the government was to revisit the cash restrictions announced with the November 8 demonetisation decision.

“The large number of ATMs which are idle today will start functioning once more 500 rupee notes come into the market. But, it will take some time,” State Bank of India group chief economist Soumya Kanti Ghosh told HT.

The scrapping of the two high-value bills sucked out 86% of the currency in circulation, leading to a cash crunch that forced millions of Indians to queue up for hours outside banks and ATMs.

Though the queues have shortened but cash crunch is far from over. While Rs 15 lakh crore worth of currency was taken out of circulation, only Rs 6.5 lakh crore has been put back in the system.

All the 220,000 ATMs in the country have been recalibrated to dispense the new Rs 2,000 and Rs 500 notes introduced after demonetisation, cash supply still remains a concern.

The government has come under fire from the Opposition for note ban and the cash chaos. Addressing the nation on the New Year’s Eve, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said focus of the government would be to bring banking operations back to normal.

“Most of the ATMs are still not working. The ATMs need to work through the day. Till that happens there is no meaning of these announcements, the moot point is the supply of cash and that needs to be worked on,” CH Venkatachalam, general secretary, All India Bank Employees’ Association, told HT.

The shortage of cash is more acute in rural areas which have a limited number of bank branches and ATMs. The focus was on supplying cash to areas where people were largely dependent on cash and electronic transactions were yet to pick up, bank officials said.

According to a State Bank of India report, it will only be by January-end that 75% of the value of the scrapped currency would be back in the system.

ATMs located in “busy areas” such as shopping centres, offices or rail and metro stations were being given priority. “We have identified some areas for ATM replenishment... banks are first trying to fill up ATMs with very high footfall,” an executive with a private bank said on condition of anonymity.