When it came to ensuring that the chaos following demonetisation did not turn into a law-and-order situation, chemist shops, petrol pumps, railway ticket windows and toll nakas turned out to be “problematic areas” for the Mumbai Police. While the police said that they had fanned across the city to ensure there were no problems, there were several petrol pumps and medical stores where arguments erupted between customers and owners when the latter said they did not have Rs 100 notes to give them.
At one petrol pump, an attendant was slapped by a riled up driver after the attendant said they were not accepting Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes as they did not have the change.
Ravi Shinde, leader of the Petrol Dealers Association, said that most petrol pumps ran out of change after giving out too many 1,000 and 500 rupee notes. “They then told vehicle owners to fill petrol for either Rs 500 or Rs 1,000. Initially, this led to several arguments as people thought it was unfair especially after it was announced that they were to accept these notes. However in a few hours, they understood our plight and things were under control,” said Shinde.
Shinde had demanded police protection at all petrol pumps to ensure that the situation did not get out of control. “Throughout the day, there were policemen at the petrol pumps to ensure nothing went out of control. While there were several arguments, nothing untoward happened at any of the petrol pumps except the one at Nagpada, where I heard that a petrol attendant was slapped,” said Shinde.
DCP (zone 3) Praveen Padwal confirmed that at a petrol pump near Honda corner at Nagpada, an attendant who told a man that he could not accept Rs 500 or Rs 1,000 as they did not have change, was slapped by the man. “This infuriated the person who slapped the attendant. A police van that was nearby rushed to the spot and overpowered the person. The attendant however said that he did not want to register a complaint against the person,” said Padwal.
Zonal deputy commissioners said that apart from petrol pumps, the other problem areas were medical shops, which too ran out of change. “At petrol pumps in our zones, there were arguments since the medical shops said they did not have any change left after giving out change since last night. We had stationed our men around medical shops to avoid any untoward incident,” N Ambika, deputy police commissioner in charge of Matunga to Wadala, said.
Apart from this, there was also chaos at railway ticket counters when attendants said they did not have change for Rs 500 and Rs 1,000. At Mumbra railway station, the Railway Protection Force (RPF) had to intervene after a group of commuters started shouting at the ticket window when the attendant refused to accept Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes.
Iqbal Shaikh, who was holding an Urdu daily in his hand, said, “See here, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has clearly said that at railway ticket windows, they have to accept Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. Still they are not accepting it.” Another ticket buyer Zubeida Khatun said, “If they don’t have change how will we take tickets. If the ticket collector catches us then will he allow us to go if we say we have no change?”
The group of 20 people were thus taken to the station master by the RPF officials so they could lodge a complaint. A senior officer with the railways however, denied there were any major problems.
Apart from this, there was chaos at toll nakas which also faced the problem of shortage of Rs 100 and Rs 50 notes. After traffic became unmanageable with long queues of vehicles at the Airoli toll naka, the toll authorities allowed cars to pass by without paying. Things became manageable only after there was an announcement later in the day that vehicles were exempt from paying toll amount.