“Respected Governor sir, I humbly submit that I am a physically challenged man. I have Rs 3,000 in old notes which are out of circulation now. Signed, an Indian citizen of yours.” This handwritten letter, signed by Narain Saini (40), a hearing- and speech-impaired man, yielded no help on Friday. Showing every policeman and paramilitary officer posted at the Reserve Bank of India the letter, he tried to explain to people — by writing on a notepad — that he had reached the RBI office at 8.30 am from his home in Burari and stood in a queue till 12.30 pm, only to be turned away when he reached the gates. Getting no clarity on the rules or eligibility for exchange of old notes, Saini lingered at the gates till around 3 pm before giving up and heading home — still unclear on why the guards at the gates let some people in and turned away others, including him. While hundreds had thronged the RBI office on Friday, the last day to get demonetised currency exchanged, many learnt that the option only exists for those who were outside the country between November 8 and December 30 last year. For NRIs, the deadline is June 30. Tears and expletives, scuffles and rants marked the day as crowds occupied half of the Sansad Marg, slowing down traffic till 4 pm.
As the crowd increased around 9 am, more security was deployed at the heavily barricaded gates. Almost everyone made a pitch to the guards, but very few were allowed in. Some also alleged they were manhandled by the guards and RBI staffers. Anil Goel, an NRI and a corporate head from Dubai who flew down to Delhi on Friday, said he was verbally abused by an RBI staffer. “You have been employed to serve the public, watch your tongue,” Goel screamed at the RBI staffer, who moved on to the next in queue. His old notes, which he discovered at his Delhi home, did not have a stamp of approval by the customs department, mandatory for NRIs or those who were abroad when demonetisation was announced on November 8 last year. Senior citizens, many of whom were carrying money left behind by deceased spouses, said they had come to the RBI for the fifth or sixth time. Among them was Naresh Anand, a 66-year-old woman who had mailed the RBI about how her husband was critically ill when demonetisation was announced and how she found Rs 40,000 in old notes after his death.
The RBI mailed her saying the “request cannot be acceded to” as per the Specified Bank Notes (Cessation of Liabilities) Ordinance, 2016. Carrying a printed copy of the mail, she lingered outside the gates, in vain. A frail 90-year-old Gulabo, assisted by her daughters and daughter-in-law from Hathras, travelled down to Delhi by bus with Rs 12,000 in old notes. She, too, spent the day at the gates, as did Shankar Lal, a widower from Allahabad, who wept in desperation holding Rs 3,500 in his hands. Charan Singh, a 66-year-old retired audit officer with the CAG, was turned away with Rs 4,500 in old notes. Many threatened to go to court. “This is valid money, our hard-earned money. How can the government not accept this? We will go to court and we will strike in Lutyens’ Delhi,” Vidya Bhushan, a DTC driver, said.