It’s been a week since the government announced its decision to invalidate high denomination notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000– which accounted for over 80 per cent of the old paper currency in circulation. But the agony for the people continues as they struggle to secure cash to manage their day-to-day expenses. It is as if the whole of India has queued up outside the banks.
At a bank branch in South Delhi, there were at least 60 persons in line even before the bank gate opened at 9:30 am. The queue doubled in length over the next hour as the guards tried to calm down some of the rowdies. As the people pushed and shoved to get in, the bank officials came out and started sending people inside in batches of four to keep the situation under control and manageable for the bank staff.
These queues are great levellers, no rich, no poor. In line were office-goers lugging their laptop bags and sporting corporates name tags, housewives dragging small kids, other working women, senior citizens, poor labourers, household helps, government officials and even some policemen.
Some arrived with debit cards and without cheque books to learn that the ATMs had crashed, probably of overload. So used the opportunity to ask the bank officials if they had got their money exchanged? “Save my space, I have to go. I’ll come back quickly,” said another to a guy behind him in the queue.
As the wait got longer and tempers frayed, there were some that expressed regret for voting the BJP in. While Modi bashing seemed to be one of the favourite discussion topics, a housewife, holding her child, had a few words for the RBI, “10 mahine se chal raha hai kaam, ye kaisi planning hai? Aam janta hi pareshan hoti hai. RBI kehta hai naye noton ki kami nahi hai? Kaha hai naye note? (The work to demonetise has been on for 10 months, what kind of planning is this? It is only the common person who suffers. RBI says there is no shortage of new notes; where are the new notes?)”
“Madam aapko to koi dikkat nahi hoti hogi cash badalwane mein? Bank walo ne karwa liya kya? Logon ko kyu pareshan kar rahe ho? ATM bhi band hai… Teen din se roz subah yehi haal hai (Ma’am you would not have had any difficulty in changing bank notes? Have the bank officials done it? Why are you troubling the people? ATM is also closed. I have been seeing this for three mornings I have been witnessing the same),” said a government official seemingly in his fifties.
There were more real concerns too. Amitesh, who works for a large tech firm in Gurgaon, said his work was suffering, but he had no choice. “I work in Gurgaon and I’m late for work. If I am able to get some cash from the bank then things will be a little easier for a few days. I’m down to my last 200 bucks in cash. Even my VP is facing the same issue, so they understand. But for how long can this last.”
Young students living alone have also been stuck badly and are in a serious situation. Sukanya Nagar, a psychology student in Delhi University, who is staying alone in Delhi had a troubling tale to tell. “I can’t pay the Metro fare, auto fare, bus fare, grocer, cafeteria by card. How do I manage? I don’t have a car and it’s not easy. I don’t even have a cheque book to take out cash. My parents deposit cash in my account each month. I have some old 500 notes to exchange, but I have no option but to miss college and stand in line.”
The businessmen in the queues had the option of having their employees stand with them to exchange some of their money. Some of those in the queues were pitching in for their employers. A man in a suit became the object of public ire as he kept returning to the line after relaxing in his car at regular intervals.
Some senior citizens who were visibly struggling to stand in the queue were advocating the move saying the country needs to stop bickering over this short term trouble. An elderly person, touting his wrinkles, was heard advising youngsters: “You would go and stand for hours in a queue to buy concert tickets, Indian Idol or any reality show audition and some other random activity. But it is troubling for you to stand in the bank queue for a few hours. The hoarders of black money have destroyed the country. We can keep a continued effort to bring back the black money from abroad. First we have to stop the generation and hoarding of black money. If you cut the source from generating, it is easier to stop the leakage.”
Despite the murmurs against the government, there was large support for the move and people were willing to bear the troubles. They, however, wished the government had planned it a little more efficiently.
A young working professional in his late 20s supported the move, but said alternate payment options like e-payments were not ready to handle the extra load and causing trouble to people in critical situations. “My mother’s cancer medicine costs Rs 1,800 per day. We don’t have cash to buy the medicine at medical stores. The problem is the sudden load on bank servers for e-payments and card payments means transactions fail regularly and the chemists refuse to sell the medicine if we don’t pay cash. This is the case for almost all the retail outlets where multiple payment machines crash due to overload on servers. Even ATMs have crashed in multiple locations. Three of us have come to take out money. It’s not easy.”
The new Rs 2,000 notes are only being dispensed at banks as most of the two lakh ATMs have not been recalibrated. The newer Rs 500 notes are also low in circulation. In short supply of Rs 100 notes, several ATMs across the city bear the sign of “ATM closed” or “Out of Order” apart from the regular out of cash signs. This “small inconvenience” might just last some time more.