THERE IS an angry, anxious crowd surrounding him in the tiny compound off SV Road in Andheri West. Manning the entrance to State Bank of India branch, clerk Devendra Pradhan is already exasperated. A man shouts he has been waiting for two hours, another snaps at someone for breaking the line and a woman urges Pradhan to let her pass through. Patiently, he hands over tokens to them, issuing forms to those who wish to deposit or withdraw and repeating every few minutes, “Line me rahiye (Stay in queue)”.
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Friday, like Thursday, was a long day which stretched into night for him and 22 other employees in the bank.
The government’s decision to pull Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes from the market has shaken the well-settled routine of a 9 am to 4 pm job that Pradhan had become so comfortable with in the last few years. Last night, his work day ended at 9:30 pm.
“Even if the bank shuts at 4.30, people wait in the queue for money. We are working late because of huge crowds,” he says.
Inside, the bank manager runs from one counter to another, some customer inevitably tailing him. The stock for Friday’s new notes has still not been delivered and the bank is running out of cash. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared war on black money, bank officials were back in banks on Wednesday, despite a bank holiday, to prepare for Thursday.
Bank officials and staff across the city, who otherwise lower the shutters by 4 pm, have been working long hours, returning early the morning after, and finishing late again.
On Thursday, a serpentine queue stood in front of the bank before it even opened. People had strange requests — ‘I want to withdraw over Rs 10,000”, “My cheque is bouncing, please process it”, “I am an account holder. Why should I stand in queue?”.
The bank introduced a system of tokens especially for deposit and withdrawal to speed up the procedure. But by Thursday night, over 1,000 people had come.
After the bank lowered its shutters, work continued inside. “We have to file our report which is sent to the controller. Then there are also arrangements for the next day. This will continue for a while,” the bank manager, requesting anonymity, said.
He left the bank at 8.30 pm, three hours later than he does during the usual schedule. The clerks left even later, after clean-up. Saturday and Sunday will be no respite either, as banks have been asked to remain open. Those days will see even longer night shifts.
“I don’t think Guru Nanak Jayanti will be a holiday either, this is a first,” a branch official jokes. The SBI has been issued strict instructions to not comment over their procedure. Several tired employees, however, murmured about their exhaustion, expected to stretch for days.
On Friday, Mayank Desai, branch manager at Nutan Nagrik Sahakari Bank says, “I have run out of cash in my bank. There is a long queue there. I am hoping SBI will give our bank at least Rs 1 lakh so that I can at least satisfy 25 customers.” He had waited for three hours already. In his bank, every employee is working in one direction — to deposit and facilitate withdrawal. “All other functions have been suspended for now,” he said.