Ghatkopar resident Abhishek Pandey usually takes a cab to work. But on Wednesday he got his younger brother to drop him to his office at Matunga Road. “With ATMs shut for two days, I am saving every piece of loose change,” said the 35-year-old working at share broking firm.
Many such as Pandey who depend on autorickshaws and black and yellow cabs for their daily commute were caught unawares following the government’s surprise move to abolish Rs500 and Rs1,000 notes from Tuesday midnight.
Chaos prevailed on the roads and at petrol stations, drug stores, and retail and wholesale markets as commuters rushing to their place of work frantically ran about trying to secure change for Rs500 and Rs 1,000 notes as three-wheeler and four-wheeler cabbies refused to accept these.
“I fear that the crowding in trains and the metro rail might get worse on the way back home,” said Senthil Iyer, an executive at a law firm in Nariman Point. With people running short on change, finding Ola or Uber rides might be difficult, he added.
Massive traffic snarls were witnessed at all entry and exit points of Mumbai, the Mumbai-Pune Expressway and other toll roads as the toll contractors refused to accept high value notes and did not permit vehicles to cross over to the other side.
Alarmed by the growing anger among the crowds, one toll post - Khalapur on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway - allowed vehicles toll-free, at least for Wednesday.
South-bound motorists from Navi Mumbai were stuck in long queues at the Vashi toll booth. “I had to wait for 20 minutes at a Thane toll booth,” said Mikesh Gupta, a commuter.
The 24-hour pharmacies and retail petrol stations had an unending stream of customers offering big notes for conducting small value transactions, putting a severe strain on their stocks of Rs100, Rs50, Rs20 and Rs10 notes and coins.
“I exhausted over Rs 60,000 worth in small notes in one hour - usually that is my fortnight’s stock. The crowds don’t stop coming. Where will I get more change?” rued the manager of a pharmacy chain in Kandivli in north-west Mumbai.
BEST conductors say no problem
BEST conductors said that they have not yet faced any issue because of the discontinued currency as ticket amounts are less than Rs100. “We have instructed all our depots and smart cards renewal centres on not accepting discontinued notes,”said Hanumant Gophane, public relations officer of BEST.
Business as usual for taxi drivers
Taxi and auto rickshaw drivers said that their business is as usual, even though bigger currency notes discontinued. “I will accept Rs500 notes if any passenger does not have change,”said a taxi driver. AL Quadros, veteran taxi union leader said that their members have not faced any problem from passengers . “Generally, taxi drivers get shorter distance fare and office goers keep change with them,”said Quadros.
Railways is accepting discontinued currency as announced by Prime Minister, but most clerks at station booking counters are not accepting those due to the problem of issuing change. “Everybody is coming with Rs500 or Rs 1,000 notes, for Rs20 or Rs40 ticket. From where will we bring Rs460 in change for everyone,”said a CR station master, requesting anonymity.
Taxi drivers of app-based taxis said that they have not faced any major issue, as they politely refuse to accept Rs 500 or Rs1,000 notes. App-based taxi aggregators have welcomed the move of discontinuation of currency notes. “We welcome this landmark move by the Prime Minister. As a nation, this is our first major step towards a cashless economy, bringing convenience and transparency for every Indian. This move is integral in realising our shared vision of a Digital India,”said Bhavish Aggarwal, co-founder and CEO, Ola.
(with inputs from IANS)