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The scramble by millions of panicked consumers to exchange banned currency or deposit them turned tragic on Friday when two people died in separate incidents in Maharashtra and Kerala amid chaos and confusion for the second straight day with poor cash flow. As banks across the country struggled to contain serpentine queues since early morning, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, took people by surprise when he visited SBI’s Parliament Street branch in Delhi to exchange banned notes with new ones, in a show of solidarity with increasing impatient people.
There were no signs of immediate relief even as several cash strapped people were asked to go back after bank servers at several branches reportedly collapsed while several ATMs went dry in a few hours. People who were able to exchange the old currency, could get hold of the new notes only after waiting for several hours. Vishwanath Vartak, 73, who was standing in the queue before an SBI branch for exchanging currency, collapsed and died on the spot at Navghar in Mulund in eastern suburbs, police said. Vartak had been standing for hours in the queue to exchange Rs.1000 and Rs.500 denomination notes. Though he was rushed to hospital by some people who saw him collapse, he was declared dead before admission, police said.
In another incident, a 48-year old man, who came to deposit Rs five lakh worth scrapped high denomination notes in a bank in Thalassery in Kerala, died after he fell down from the second floor of a building. Unni, a Kerala State Electricity Board employee, was filling the necessary forms to deposit the amount in the State Bank of Travancore’s branch, located in the first floor, when the mishap occurred, they said quoting preliminary information. He was unsuccessful to deposit the notes on Thursday, thus he came to the bank again this morning. Running out of money for the last two days, men and women across the country had thronged the ATMs since early morning, while in many places people were greeted with dissapointment when they found the machines not working.
Police was also called in to help banks control the angry depositors whose patience wore thin after standing in long queues. “People are facing hardships. That’s why I have come to join them. I am here to exchange my Rs 4,000 with new notes,” Rahul Gandhi told reporters. “Neither you (reporters) nor your crorpati owners nor Prime Minister will understand the problems faced by people.” The Congress leader, who reached the SBI’s Parliament Street branch at around 4.25 PM, waited for his turn in queue to exchange his old notes.
“I waited for an hour in the queue and minutes before my turn the ATM was already down. My biggest problem is buying groceries and paying for other petty expenses,” said 35-year-old housewife Aditi Saha in Kolkata. Even the bank employees are facing tough time dealing with customers in view of people rushing to the banks to exchange their old money. “We (employees) could not get time to have our lunch during the day as the branch was flooded by people,” S K Shrivastava, Manager, Bank of India, S K Nagar branch in Patna said.
People in Delhi had a harrowing time like in other parts of the country as they stood in long queues for several hours outside banks to exchange their demonetised Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes with new ones even as many of ATMs had not stocked up cash. “I had been saving money but it wasn’t of any use since all of them were in Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 denominations. My only hope after surviving two days without cash was that the ATMs will be operational from Friday, but owing to many of the ATMs being closed, I had to borrow money from my neighbours,” said Delhi homemaker Sunita Dass.
Ajeet Singh, a media professional in Mumbai, said when he went to an ATM in suburban Andheri, he found it closed and was told by a bank executive to come after an hour or two. “When I went to exchange demonetised notes with new ones, I was told that the bank has not received the money yet and it would start exchanging it at 4 PM only,” he said. After finding some ATMs in Mumbai not dispensing cash, Charles Asirvatham, an executive of a Malaysia-based company, took the twitter route to express his anguish.
“After completing my morning walk, I went to the ATM of ICICI Bank around 7 am on Boring road roundabout but it was closed. One of the guards told me that the ATM was to be replenished with cash in the night but the process could not be completed in the night and hence it was not dispensing money,” said Ajay Kumar, a resident of Anandpuri area in Patna. “Things have become bad to worse as I am completely run out of money and it is becoming difficult to meet my daily needs,” Kumar added.
A youth was arrested by Odisha police when he was trying to deposit fake currency in a bank at Khurda town near Bhubaneswar amid the rush of customers. Sumit Kumar Tudu, a resident of Kendrapara district, was trying to deposit Rs 2.5 lakh at the SBI branch at Khurda town. “We found Rs 47,000 fake currency notes in the bundle containing Rs 2.5 lakh,” SBI in-charge, Khurda, Deba Prasad Kanhar said, adding the bank authorities informed the police about it. Fortytwo of the notes being deposited by him were found to be fake currency of Rs 1,000 denomination and remaining 10 pieces of duplicate 500 denomination, police said. The youth claimed to be the son of a bank officer and said the money belonged to his father. He was told to deposit the amount in his father’s account.