Long queues at railways stations and fuel pumps, empty BEST buses and taxis, and surge pricing by app-based cabs during the morning rush hour — the government’s currency rule sent commuters into a tizzy on Wednesday morning.
In a surprise announcement the previous evening, the Narendra Modi government decided to make illegal the bigger denomination notes of Rs500 and Rs1, 000 in a move to crack down on fake currency and black money.
On the first day of the new rule, fuel pumps and public transport modes saw maximum chaos.
As the discontinued notes were not accepted by BEST bus conductors or drivers of autos and taxis, commuters who did not have change while travelling by public transport modes.were hit the worst.
“Conductors were asked not to accept notes of Rs500 and Rs1000, as they will be unable to give change to so many passengers,” said Hanumant Gophane, BEST’s public relations officer. BEST accepted the notes for commuters to recharge their e-purse and smart cards, but did not accepted them at its electricity bill collection centres and bus pass counters.
At fuel stations, motorists spent at least 30 minutes in queues to get fuel. Most carried the higher denomination notes, but petrol pump staffers refused to give them fuel, forced them to pay exact change or buy fuel for the entire amount.
Petrol dealers said sale had gone up threefold but faced issues because they were running out of change. “For petrol worth Rs30-40, people were giving Rs500 notes. How we can give change to everyone,” said Rajendra Vijayan, a petrol pump owner in Parel.Many pumps witnessed arguments between consumers and staffers, forcing the dealers association to ask for police protection.Several pumps shut down operation as underground fuel tanks dried up. But motorists said, “Despite having cash, pump owners were forcing us to buy fuel for Rs500,” said Santosh Pujari, a Kalachowki resident.
Taxi and auto rickshaw drivers said their earnings dropped. “Fewer commuters hailed taxis as they were all running short of cash,” said AL Quadros, leader of the Mumbai Taximens Union. Shashank Rao, the Mumbai Auto rickshawmens and Taximens Union leader said CNG outlets had shut, forcing drivers to stay off the roads.
As commuters flocked to app-based taxis that accept internet payment, many said they had to face surge pricing and higher fares in the morning rush hour. The drivers of these taxis said their firms asked them not to accept higher denomination notes, but this did not hurt them as most passengers paid online.
Other drivers accepted Rs500s and Rs1,000s. “There is no point holding passengers to ransom when the government has given time till December to deposit such notes in banks,” said Arjun Bodage, 26, a driver with an app cap.
Several passengers who arrived in the city by trains or flights complained of errant drivers taking advantage of the situation. Some said the prepaid taxi counter at the airport refused to accept the currency notes and so did cabbies.