Banks struggle to handle panicked customers, ATMs run dry within hours
Millions of panicked consumers lined up outside banks and ATMs across India on Friday to exchange withdrawn banknotes but chaos ensued for the second straight day with poor cash flow and no signs of immediate relief.
Banks struggled to contain serpentine queues since early morning as increasingly impatient people were told to go back as several ATMs closed down in a few hours.
“ATMs are closed. Bank officials said cash would only come in by afternoon,” said Manoj, a resident of Dwarka, a suburb of Delhi, who returned home from one such facility.
“We are standing in queue since 9 am and it’s been an hour but we are not able to enter the bank. It feels like some disaster has happened,” said Sanjay Chauhan, a resident of Crossings Republik township at Ghaziabad.
Many said they struggled to deposit or exchange Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes – which the government abruptly put out of circulation on Tuesday in a bid to stamp out illegal cash.
The banks had initially promised a smooth transition to the new Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 notes but on the ground, the process has been chaotic and confusing.
“Yesterday I was not able to withdraw cash due to a long queue. Today the situation is worse. Queues are getting longer,” said Archana Singh, a housewife in Noida’s sector 120.
ATM operators said most machines were operating at just 10% capacity because of a crunch in the supply of Rs 100 notes. Others said they just don’t have enough staff and vans to keep re-stocking ATMs that are witnessing high demand.
In Chandigarh, police had to deploy additional personnel outside banks as tempers rose and ATMs ran out of cash.
“I was told that the bank has not received the money yet and it would start exchanging it at 4 pm only,” said Ajeet Singh, a media professional in Mumbai’s Andheri.
In Kerala, hundreds of senior citizens lined up to exchange their money – many said they were forced to join snaking queues as they had run out of groceries and needed cash to survive.
As the day progressed, panic grew as petrol pumps, metro stations and a bunch of similar outlets will stop accepting the old banknotes from midnight.
But most people were unable to exchange cash.
In Gurgaon, many returned home empty handed as ATMs ran out of cash in a couple of hours. Many expressed their anger at what they called poor management of the currency shake-up.
Bhawani Shankar Tripathy, a Sector 23A resident of Gurgaon complained about a lack of preparation at bank branches across the city. “There should be more counters to deposit cash and to exchange notes”, he said.
Come Saturday, people can still deposit their cash in bank accounts or exchange it, but any transaction above Rs 2.5 lakh will invite scrutiny. If the deposits don’t match declared income sources, more than 90% of the money may be taken away by the government.
But some of the worst hit people are those in smaller towns, villages and daily-wage earners with little access to the formal banking system. Those with marriages scheduled in their families are also aggrieved by the decision that comes in the middle of the wedding season.
Kumar, who had come to the bank with the printed card of his daughter’s wedding , hoped that bank officials would listen to his pleas for more cash. “I don’t know how everything will happen now”, said Nirmala, his wife.
(With agency inputs)