After waiting 36 hours, lakhs of anxious people made a beeline for banks and post offices on Thursday to exchange their Rs 500 and 1,000 notes demonetized by the government. Thousands queued up hours before the banks and post offices opened on Thursday across Mumbai and in other major cities like Pune, Nagpur, Aurangabad, Nashik, Kolhapur, armed with the notes and identity papers.
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While many had filled up the special requisition slips in advance and attached the identity papers, others ran around frantically to get photocopies, where they encountered more long queues, before they could exchange the demonetized notes. Most private and public sector bank branches were jammed with customers. In some places the air conditioners couldn’t take the load and were either shut off or broke down. Others resorted to admitting groups of five to 10 people at a time.
Similar crowds were witnessed at ATMs which also opened up first time since Tuesday night as people rushed to withdraw the permitted amounts for their daily routine expenses. Though independent confirmation was not available, television reports quoted customers complaining that some branches and ATMs had already exhausted their cash stocks within the first couple of hours after they opened for the day.
Almost like winning a war, many of the early birds who managed to withdraw the brand new Rs 500-Rs 2,000 notes clicked selfies and proudly uploaded them on various social media. But the battle was still not won – outside. They encountered fresh problems as they could not get them changed due to virtual absence of Rs 100 and Rs 50 and other lower denomination notes in the markets.
Most ordinary activities of trade and commerce, kirana shops, saloons, multiplexes, malls and others had come to a standstill on Wednesday in the near total absence of customers. Only customers having cards turned up to shop at those outlets accepting credit and debit cards but all others dealing in daily cash transactions including cabbies, took a big hit.
All banks have been directed to work for 12 hours on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday to clear the rush of desperate customers for banking transactions, and if required, remain open even next Sunday (November 20). The situation on the roads normalized since Wednesday evening after both the Maharashtra and central governments announced a waiver of toll taxes on all highways till November 11 midnight. Yet, customers resorted to panic purchases of petrol stocks, railway or air tickets to offload their existing stocks of the demonetized notes.