What was supposed to be the last day for Indian citizens who were abroad during November-December 2016 to deposit their denotified currency notes of Rs 1000 and Rs 500, instead saw a large turnout of people from within the country who missed the December 30 deadline for exchange of demonetised notes due to various reasons.
One of them was Mohammed Nabeel Ansari, a construction labourer in Goa, who met with an accident a week after the government announced demonetisation. Ansari underwent a leg surgery and was immobile for almost two months. In January, when Ansari went home to Sitamarhi in Bihar, his wife handed him old notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 worth Rs 17,000.
“I took it to Goa immediately, but the bank asked me to go to RBI in Mumbai. I came here and since then. I have been coming everyday to this place in the hope that they will exchange my old notes. But they haven’t. I have all my medical records and reports to prove my claim,” said Ansari.
In another case, Sindhubai Jhadav, a widow from Dhule who came to exchange Rs 35,000 in scrapped notes, was turned down by the RBI Friday. Jhadav, a farmer, said she found Rs 35,000 in old notes in the belongings of her mother-in-law who passed away earlier this month.
“What do I do, she (mother-in-law) never told us about it. I found the money while emptying her room. Now I have taken a loan of Rs 5,000 to come to Mumbai, but the RBI is not accepting my money,” said Jhadav.
Apart from Jhadav, a bottled water delivery man, Kanhabhai, travelled 800 km in a bus from a village close to Gondal in Gujarat to reach the RBI office at 7 am, along with his uncle to deposit about Rs 65,000 held by his 80-year-old ailing mother.
“They (RBI) say only people who were outside the country can deposit money. I don’t know what to do. After demonetisation, I kept on asking my mother if she had old notes, and she said no. Last week, I found this money in her trunk. I am ruined,” said Kanhabhai.
On November 8, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while announcing the demonetisation move, had said citizens unable to deposit their old currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 by December 30, 2016 could do so at specified RBI offices up to March 31, 2017.
After the deadline to exchange the scrapped notes expired on December 30, 2016, the government issued an ordinance saying only those who were abroad, Armed Forces personnel posted in remote areas, or others who could give valid reasons for not being able to deposit the cancelled notes could do so till March 31.
On Friday, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) headquarters in Mumbai was visited by hundreds of ineligible citizens such as Ansari and Jhadav, in the hope that the government would give them another chance to submit their scrapped notes.
While most of the people who were abroad during November-December 2016 quietly queued outside the central bank waiting for their turn, around 11 o’clock in the morning, the crowd of ineligible people that had gathered outside the RBI as early as 7 am became so unmanageable that police were called in to control the crowd.
The anger and frustration of the people was palpable as they started shouting slogans against the government and the RBI.
“We are the ones who vote, not the NRIs (Non-Resident Indians). Then why are they getting special treatment? Narendra Modi says he is a chai wala, but doesn’t understand what poor people are going through. Mann ki baat karo ya dil ki baat karo, PM bas ek baar aake iss line main khade raho ek ghante. (Whether or not he holds heart-to-heart talks with us, the PM should just come stand in this queue for an hour),” said Laxman Khare, a sugarcane farmer from Bidar in Karnataka, who was turned down by the RBI.
According to a finance ministry statement, the note exchange facility would now be available only for citizens of India who are not residents of India, till June 30, 2017. This exchange facility will be subject to Foreign Exchange Management (Export and Import of Currency) Regulations, 2015. These rules restrict bringing back Indian currency into the country to Rs 25,000 per person.