The government on Wednesday suspended toll collection on national highways across the country till November 11 and asked banks to work this weekend as millions of people grappled to adjust to a life without the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 banknote.
“It has been decided to suspend Toll across all National Highways till midnight of 11th November to facilitate smooth traffic movement,” Union minister for road transport and highways and shipping Nitin Gadkari wrote on Facebook.
“There will be logistic issues in returning change for Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes,” Gadkari said.
The Reserve Bank of India said ATMs will start dispensing Rs 50 and Rs 100 notes from Thursday. Banks have also been asked not to charge any fee for ATM transactions till December 30.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s late night announcement on Tuesday demonetised Rs 500 and 1000 currency notes , resulting in 86% of currency in circulation by value no longer being accepted as legal tender.
However, some concessions are allowed for use of these notes at hospitals and crematoriums, and to buy air, rail and bus tickets till November 11. Toll plazas also continued to accept the devalued currency, according to an earlier announcement by the ministry.
“The commuters are giving us Rs 500, but are not ready to accept it. This is the main reason for the chaos and arguments with people. We are facing a lot of difficulty,” said public relations officer Skylark toll company Kirpal Singh.
“Eighty percent of the commuters have given us Rs 1000 and are not ready to accept Rs 500 in return,” Singh added.
Most commuters tried to hand in the scrapped notes at toll plazas in a bid to get them changed into Rs 100 and Rs 50 denominations, but the concessionaires quickly ran out of paper money and traffic slowed to a crawl.
Thousands of commuters and office goers were stranded in a massive traffic jam at the Gurgaon-Delhi Expressway on Wednesday.
Wednesday’s decision to declare all roadways toll-free is to give the administration time to resolve logistical issues in replenishing plazas with lower-value currency notes.
ATMs, which will remain closed on Wednesday and Thursday, will start dispensing new currency notes on November 11, relieving some of the cash crunch brought on by the surprise announcement.
But panic-stricken people rushed to railway stations and petrol pumps to use up the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, spending more than Rs 1 lakh for train tickets.
Railway minister Suresh Prabhu said people were lining up with Rs 1,000 notes to purchase platform tickets of Rs 10 each.
Delhi Metro sparked anger earlier in the day, putting up notices saying it will not accept Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes but later reversed the decision. It said the notes of the two denominations will continue to be legal tender till Friday midnight.
(With inputs from HTC Delhi)