‘Like a fish market’: Banks open, thousands rush to exchange currency notes
Hitesh Bhagat is worried. The stalky 50 something doesn’t want to give up his place in the long queue that has sprung outside the HDFC bank at South Delhi’s Greater Kailash-II branch.
He was at the bank even before it opened for business but was beaten to the counter by least 50 people when he got there at 9am.
Similar scenes played out across Delhi and neighbouring areas on Thursday, the first bank day after the government’s surprise move to withdraw 500 and 1,000 rupee banknotes. In some places forms needed for the exchange of currency were in short supply, at others banks ran out of cash within hours.
“This is madness... what if the Rs 100 notes finish at the bank, I will have to go to another bank, but that, too will have a long queue... Modi’s decision is good, but it is also troublesome,” said Bhagat.
He had only three 100 rupee notes on him. But Jugal Kishor, a resident of Shalimar Garden in nearby Uttar Pradesh’s Ghaziabad, had a bigger worry.
“I am rushing to the nearby branch. We have to pay the caterer, decorator, tent-house owner and many other people and they don’t accept cards. I have cash but the notes are now out of circulation,” he said.
Starting Thursday, a person can exchange Rs 4,000 at any bank branch or post office upon producing a valid identity proof.
“The money -- Rs 4,000-- that I will get in exchange today will hardly suffice. I will have to keep going to the bank everyday from now. Today, I will deposit all old notes,” he said.
Notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 ceased to be legal tenders on Wednesday after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Tuesday the decision to withdraw the high-value notes, which are being replaced by new Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 notes.
In Gurgaon’s Palam Vihar, the State Bank of India was issuing 20 tokens at a time to regulate the crowd.
But lack of information and sheer numbers were overwhelming. “I am running high fever but still came to change notes as there is no cash to buy medicines and food,” said Paramjeet Kour, complaining the forms needed for the exchange were not available.
A majority of people that HT spoke to in Gurgaon, which saw long lines outside banks as early as 7am, said the move had inconvenienced them but they supported the government’s crackdown on black money.
“This is the right decision at the right time. There would be little convenience for common man but it would help the country in the long run,” said TN Wali.
Police were posted outside banks to maintain order. Some branches ran out of cash within hours. “11.27 am cash finished at HDFC_bank sector 52 Gurgaon,” tweeted Manoj Khera.
Migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were confused. “I am a contractor and get paid in large notes, which are now useless. What should I do?” Ram Chander, who comes from Bareilly in UP, said. He also wanted to know how much money he could send home.
The scene at the State Bank of India’s CR Park branch in south Delhi was chaotic. A quarrel broke out as a couple of people tried to jump the queue. “This is like a fish market... it reminds me of yesteryears when we use to go to buy movie tickets for a houseful show, and people were ready to kill themselves to get the tickets,” said a person standing in the queue.
The quarrel was about the same thing -- no one wanted to give up their place in the queue, fearing that Rs 100 notes would run out and they would have to go without money for another day.
Sangita skipped a morning meeting to exchange 20 bills of Rs 500. She was in an all-woman queue but because of the rush the queues seemed to have merged in.
“Who cares, as long as I can exchange the notes,” said Sangita. She, however, would only get Rs 4,000 in cash, the remaining sum, in keeping with the RBI regulations, would go into her account. People have until December 30 to exchange old notes.
But, there are some who want a piece of history. “I will get my last Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes framed and keep them as souvenir. I am already 40 and such events (demonitisation) are rare in a lifetime,” said Vikrant Sharma, a Ghaziabad-based lawyer.
An HR manager, Sanjeev Sethi was not too worried. Like many, he relies more on cards and online transactions. “I am off to my office at Gurgaon. I will get some old notes exchanged during the day,” he said.
Some banks were only taking deposits and not exchanging money. In Uttar Pradesh’s Vaishali some banks turned away people, saying cash would be available after a few days.
(With inputs from Abhishek Anand, HTC Delhi)