Banks and ATMs witnessed added chaos and longer queues on Saturday as cash-starved people jostled to exchange and withdraw money over the weekend, with cash dispensing machines running dry within hours of being stocked.
“The crowd is even more than the last two days. It is five times more than what we saw on Day 1,” Paramtosh Singh, manager of an SBI bank branch at Asaf Ali Marg said, adding that the people who were off from work began queuing up early in the day.
“It was very difficult for two policemen to handle the situation yesterday (Friday). Today, four policemen have been deployed,” he added.
Many families were out on the streets together to improve their chances of exchanging or withdrawing money. “My father is at a nearby bank. I am standing at an ATM and my mother has gone to another branch. Whoever gets the money,” said Sanya Mehta in Indirapuram.
Around half of the ATMs are still not functional, leaving people in serpentine queues agitated over the lack of preparedness by the Narendra Modi-led government after it announced the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes. There are about two lakh ATMs across the country.
Government sources have told Hindustan Times that ATMs will take much longer than what was initially expected to be ready to dispense the newly minted banknotes. These notes are of a new size and design that require the software --- which helps an ATM count currency notes and dispense them --- to be reconfigured.
The second Saturday of every month is a bank holiday, but the government has ordered all branches across the country to function over the weekend.
The endless wait to get valid currency notes was taking a toll on people, with reports of several elderly people collapsing. According to bankers, the situation is unlikely to improve for another 8-10 days.
About seven logistics and cash management companies are handed the task to manage 2.2 lakh ATMs with 35,000 trained people and just 8,800 security vans.
“I don’t have office on Saturday. So I came to the ATM early, thinking that I will get cash quickly. I arrived at 8.30am and to my horror, saw that 30 people were already in the queue before me. The ATM had not opened yet, but the crowd was just getting bigger by the minute,” said SN Singh (34), an IT professional who lives in Dwarka.
PTI reported some banks also expressed their apprehensions about the possibility of people turning unruly. They said they didn’t have adequate security arrangements to handle such a situation. There have been reports of scuffles at bank branches and ATMs from different parts of the country.
It was a busy day for the Delhi Police, which attended to around 3,000 calls from anxious people who stood in queues to withdraw money.
“Yesterday (on Friday), we received close to 750 calls from anxious people who complained their notes were not exchanged or banks ran out of cash. Today, we attended to more than three times the number of calls,” special commissioner of police (operations) Sanjay Beniwal said.
Tea estates across the Northeast, most of them in Assam, and remote areas where currency notes take days to travel, have been hit by the demonetisation of high-value notes.
A day after Assam tea industry captains sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention for enhancing cash withdrawal limit imposed concurrently with demonetisation, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Friday allowed banks to release cash for wage payment to plantation workers.
“Understanding such financial complication is beyond most tea garden labourers. They are not willing to wait and there are chances of their turning violent,” a planter from central Assam’s Jorhat said, seeking anonymity.
On Friday, the government extended the use of old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes for paying household utility bills, fuel, taxes and fees as well as purchases from co-operative stores by another 72 hours till November 14.
With inputs from agencies