CARRYING A bundle of currency-exchange forms, two men caught the attention of officials of an SBI branch at Guindy in Chennai Monday. They were not only filling up the forms but also distributing currency to a group of women standing in queue. “Some 50 women were with them. The men would hand them the filled forms and currency, which the women would exchange for Rs 2,000 notes,” said a bank official. Some of them had turned up a second time when bank staff identified them. “One of them collected Rs 4,500 a second time but a second woman was stopped,” the official said. “When officials called the man who had distributed the money, he said they belong to a political party. One of the women said they had Rs 60 crore to exchange.”
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Politicians, businessmen and lawyers deployed their followers and employees to get around the exchange ceiling in banks.
At an ICICI branch in Anna Nagar, 15 women from a self-help group gathered with Rs 4,000 each. At SBI’s Rajaji Salai branch, the queue included an employee of a restaurant and textile chain. “Forty of us are running around,” he said. Another 50 or 60 were sent from the restaurant chain, said another employee. “With different ID documents, 100 of us visit five branches — Rs 22,500 per person per day,” said Ganesh, an employee.
And a junior lawyer said, “I get Rs 2,000 each a day from my senior. Nine of us will be doing this for 10 days,” he said.
The manager of a Canara Bank branch in Thiruvanmiyur said they couldn’t stop this organised exchange at this time. “There is an RBI portal to record transactions but in this crisis, it is impossible to upload details… Moreover, people use a different ID for each exchange in a different branch,” he said.
Said V Srinivasan, a farmer-activist, “In my view, demonetisation is a brick for the poor and halwa for the rich. They asked me to come twice to withdraw Rs 20,000 even after I told them I had a medical emergency at home. But black money hoarders are making their money white in lakhs.”
D Thomas Franco, vice president of All India Bank Officers’ Confederation, said, “This is one problem bankers cannot trace unless the RBI portal alerts us. In Madurai, we have reports that financiers and politicians are deploying a large number of SHG women.” He said the reports suggest they are being paid Rs 200 to Rs 300 per day.