Three months ago, Rohan Srivastava (name changed on request), 34, a senior manager at a private bank in Worli, fixed his father’s cardiac surgery on November 13. The government’s decision to scrap high-denomination currency notes did not allow him to attend to his father. As his father was being operated upon, he was attending to customers, many of them angry and hassled, at the bank.
“I was constantly on-call with my wife while the surgery was on and assisted customers at the same time,” said Srivastava, adding the operation was successful. “There is no excuse for soldiers while guarding the line of control. Similarly, there is no excuse for us if we are battling something as challenging as eradicating black money.”
The demonetisation of high denomination notes took people across the country off-guard, forcing them to rush to neighbourhood bank branches. While people faced inconvenience, most banks tried to ensure smooth proceedings. “The idea was to avoid miscommunication between banks and customers to avoid any panic,” said a senior bank manager from ICICI Bank, Prabhadevi. “Separate queues for withdrawal, deposit and senior citizens eased the situation.”
Many workers put in about ten hours of work daily even on weekends. A few banks called retired workers for help. “This will help ease the load on the existing staff,” said Rakesh Sharma, CEO and MD of Canara Bank.
An employee from HDFC, Lower Parel, said, “Our staff made sure specially-abled people were not made to stand in queues. Office staff helped people complete paperwork in the queue.”
“People panicked on Day One,” said Prashant Khadilkar, manager at the State Bank of India branch at Borivli, adding, “Sacrificing one weekend doesn’t matter as long as people benefit from it.”
Customers, on the other hand, had mixed views. “Some banks are giving excellent service, while others are bad,” said Nirdesh Shah, a resident of Borivli.
Some appreciated their efforts. “It is commendable,” said Vinit Mehta, a businessman, standing in a queue outside a bank at Malad. “We wouldn’t have been able to do anything had they decided to keep the banks closed.”
Officials from the Indian Banks’ Association (IBA) said a letter was sent by the bank employee unions to the association, requesting flexibility in working hours. “With the indelible ink system, the queues should shorten in the coming days and the rush should be relatively less,” said Rajeev Rishi, chairman, IBA and chairman and managing director of Central Bank of India. “More ATMs have been recalibrated; fresh printing of Rs500 and Rs2,000 notes will also ease pressure on banks and customers in the coming week.”
“No matter how much banks are criticised, they are the ones whom the whole country can rely on,” said Karan Khot, a student of theatre and arts. “Handling and organising money is an art. We have no right to speak against them if they are honest with people.”
“We have set up shamianas and made seating arrangements to. In some of our branches, customers are bringing snacks, fruits and lunch for the branch staff,” said a spokesperson of Axis bank. “We are the most neglected. We are at the receiving end from both sides. We are blamed for any miscommunication, not to mention no break during 12-hour shifts in a day,” said a security guard standing outside State Bank of India, Lower Parel.