Imagine an overworked banker burning the midnight oil for the past week to clear a deluge of customers frantically trying to withdraw or exchange scrapped currency.
Imagine them missing holidays, working 12-hour shifts for the first time in decades, getting little sleep and dealing with the rising anger of consumers who are spending hours in queues.
Imagine them having to explain to people to not come back for multiple withdrawals but not having the time to check teller records on their computer screens. Imagine being overwhelmed by a crisis that even the country’s government didn’t prepare for.
This has been the situation thousands of India’s bankers have found themselves in since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s shock recall of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes last Tuesday.
But if the current crisis in money exchange and withdrawal wasn’t enough, the government may have added another layer of complication on top – indelible ink .
On Tuesday, economic affairs secretary Shaktikanta Das announced that every person visiting the bank for exchanging old cash will get inked, in a bid to prevent multiple transactions that the government thinks is clogging queues.
But the move may turn out to be a disaster, especially in the untrained, overworked hands of India’s bankers.
Putting indelible ink is a cumbersome process even in the hands of the meticulously trained election officials and separate counters are created at polling booths, manned by personnel dedicated for the job. Despite this, long queues at polling stations are a common sight.
The government has offered little by way of detail about the plan. But imagine a bank stuffed with on-the-edge consumers and an untrained teller fumbling with indelible ink as the queue grows longer.
One can only conjecture how the time taken per transaction will zoom, now that bankers are expected to do an additional job. This, amid reports that many bankers are unable to stop multiple transactions on the same day – despite having the data on their computer. The reason – lack of time and huge crowds.
There is a real problem – people hoodwinking the system to clog queues and possibly park illegal cash. But indelible ink is a poor way to tackle it, especially with reports that it can be removed with a concoction of chemicals.
Howsoever noble the aim of demonetization , its rollout has been bumpy. The government has revised rules several times but the deadlines have been missed and confusion created – it is a week since Modi’s announcement but most ATMs have still not been recalibrated to dispense new currency. There is no clarity on when this upgrade will be done. In many remote areas of the Northeast, ATMs and banks haven’t received cash for days.
The solution to all this isn’t adding another layer of bureaucracy. Most of those lined up outside banks are honest people who are panicked about their savings. There are poor people who are forced to scrounge or go hungry. Their lives aren’t going to get any easier with indelible ink.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)