ON WEDNESDAY, a month since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced at 8 pm on November 8 that Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 were to be withdrawn as legal tender from midnight, it was just another workday at the main branch of J&K Bank in this town, located on Baramulla-Uri national highway. The hall is full of customers, but all waiting patiently at counters as the cashiers count the new Rs 2,000 and Rs 500 notes carefully. Compared to other parts of the country, the Valley has not seen a rush outside banks. It was a smooth transition.
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The town has a population of more than 80,000, and J&K Bank officials say the branch has more than 40,000 accounts. Like other parts of the Valley, this border town has strictly followed shutdowns called by separatists since July. Which has meant shops open only once in a while, and that has in a way helped minimise the rush to 10 bank branches of the town.
“It was hectic initially but was manageable from day one. There has been no chaos, as seen in other parts of the Valley,’’ a senior manager at the bank says. “Initially we got 1,300 to 1,500 vouchers for clearance every day, which is now down to 300 to 400.”
He says most people came with demonetised notes for the first 20 days. “Now people come to withdraw cash.’’
Not everyone is as happy, though. Shafaat Ahmad, a contractor, wanted to withdraw Rs 24,000 but was given Rs 15,000 since the bank fears they will run out of cash. “I have to disburse wages to labourers, but I don’t know what I will do now,” he says.
Outside, both ATMs are out of cash. Locals say that has become a daily feature now, but they still dispense money, says Mohammad Afzal, a resident of old town waiting in the line, pointing at the staff loading the machines.
Besides J&K Bank’s four ATMs, there are four other ATMs of other banks in the town. “If there is no money here, we just walk 500 meters to another ATM. We haven’t faced any problem all these days,’’ says Hilal Ahmad, a government teacher and resident of Dewan Bagh in Baramulla.
At the HDFC Bank nearby, there is no rush. The branch was opened only two years ago, in one of the new shopping malls in the town, and caters to a little more than 1,000 account holders. “We faced cash shortage only for a few days. It is normal now for us,’’ says a young manager who deals in advances.
At J&K Bank’s KB Adda branch, branch head Sheikh Muzaffar concurs, “Now it is back to normalcy…. In fact, the unrest also helped us – there was not much cash available, and needs were limited.’’
Muzaffar says they didn’t face any problem even on pay day. “The only thing which bothers us is the changing guidelines of the RBI that reach us
every day,” he adds.
Outside, the ATM has only three men waiting. “We have never seen long queues outside this ATM,” says Bashir Ahmad, who owns a mobile shop nearby.