At 1.45 pm, an operator working during the morning shift at the booking office of Mumbai Central railway station presents the number of demonetised large denomination notes he has received since 6.30 am: 90 notes of Rs 500 and four of Rs 1,000. Despite the obvious rush of commuters with the demonetised currency, his counter seems to be running smoothly and without conflict. Since the discontinuation of the use of old high-value notes on the night of November 8, Mumbai local train stations have doubled up as a place where the demonetised notes can be exchanged for lower denomination notes, being one of the public establishments mandated to accept these notes for payments.
To facilitate these transactions, the suburban railway received Rs 101 lakh in smaller denominations like Rs 100, 50, 20 and 10 from the Reserve Bank of India on November 10. The notes were distributed among all the stations after an assessment was made on the requirement of each station. This preemptive measure had considerably eased the pressure that the stations would experience in the days to follow as the date for acceptance of the demonetised notes by them has now been extended till November 24.
Many booking operators expressed their pleasure that passengers have been extremely cooperative. “Most people who are purchasing tickets for Rs 10 or 15 are giving us the exact amount. But we are not sending away those coming with Rs 500 notes for these small tickets. If we have change, we give it to them readily. If we don’t, we ask them to wait for a bit and once we accumulate the requisite change from other passengers, we give it to them,” says a booking operator at Churchgate station, adding, “It might be a bit of a bother for us and the passengers but both parties are being sympathetic to each others’ problems and we are managing.”
Another operator at Churchgate says she thinks passengers are being patient because the situation at the stations is far better than at the banks. Here, they are getting their hands on usable currency much faster. However, smaller stations are not running as smoothly. The hassled chief booking supervisor at Marine Lines states, “Large stations like Churchgate received Rs 4 lakh from the amount distributed by the RBI while we received Rs 1 lakh, 50 to 60 per cent of which got used up on the first day itself. Some people are coming deliberately with large notes, but for us the change given by the passengers themselves is all we have.” There are frayed tempers too, handling which is another job of the overburdened operators.
A development is an increased purchase of seasonal passes, which people are being able to buy with their demonetised notes. Booking clerks say many passengers are buying yearly passes even if their existing passes are valid till next month.
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Mohammad Sajid, who already has a seasonal pass for the Central Line, refilled his Smart Card with Rs 400 because he urgently needed to get from Mumbai Central to Churchgate, and the booking clerk had only one Rs 100 note while Sajid only had a Rs 500 note.