Powerless Chennai goes offline, cyclone Vardah deepens cash crunch

Given the cash crunch following the demonetisation move, minor scuffles were also reported from fuel stations in the city that were unable to process debit or credit cards.

Written by Arun Janardhanan | Chennai | Updated: December 15, 2016 11:44 am
vardah, cyclone, cyclone vardah, chennai cyclone, demonetisation, no atm, cash crunch, cash problem, vardah demonetisation, vardah cash crunch, chennai cash crunch, vardah deaths, phone disconnect, indian express news, india news According to officials in leading banks, only 30 per cent of their ATMs were functioning while a majority of shops and business establishments, and essential services such as hospitals, were unable to process online transactions. (Image sent in by Charles Fernandes)

TWO DAYS after Cyclone Vardah lashed Chennai, the city remained off the digital map with disrupted telecom and Internet services affecting operations at ATMs and rendering PoS swipe machines useless.

According to officials in leading banks, only 30 per cent of their ATMs were functioning while a majority of shops and business establishments, and essential services such as hospitals, were unable to process online transactions.

Given the cash crunch following the demonetisation move, minor scuffles were also reported from fuel stations in the city that were unable to process debit or credit cards.

Officials from four leading private hospitals said they had “never faced such a crisis before”.

“Even during the floods of last December, with more casualties over a week, we did not face this crisis in dealing with currency. People had cash even though communication networks were down for over two weeks at the time,” said a hospital official.

According to officials, the discharge procedures of many were delayed with hospitals and patients unable to settle bills.

“Unless the bills are attached to insurance companies or government payments, we couldn’t allow a settlement. The patients are also helpless, they are unable to get currency notes even for a payment of Rs 1,000,” said a hospital director, on condition of anonymity.

Describing his experience at a leading hospital, where he undergoes dialysis thrice a week, popular Tamil writer Gnani Sankaran said that he was among many patients — some had undergone surgeries recently — standing in the queue for payment with the PoS machines not functioning.

“I was sitting and waiting as I was not able to stand. They had a dozen swipe machines but all were dead, except one. Even that one machine was showing an error message repeatedly. And, this is the situation in one of the finest hospitals in Chennai. It’s no-one’s fault but that of our Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has made me and all the sick people here stand and wait for such a long time to make that single payment,” said the 62-year-old.

Officials from SBI, Indian Overseas Bank, Indian Bank and Canara Bank said that a majority of ATMs run by public sector banks in the city remain shut on Wednesday. “The ATMs are not functioning because the data network is down. Many ATMs attached to bank branches with power or diesel back-up are empty,” said a senior SBI official.

At the Nungambakkam SBI ATM, officials were seen struggling to load Rs 100 notes for almost an hour, with over 70 people waiting in queue. But the officials’ efforts were in vain, forcing them to leave.

A senior RBI official said that new notes of Rs 500 and those of Rs 100 remained unavailable. “Even the number of new Rs 2,000 bills are inadequate. The total disbursal of Rs 84 crore to the SBI Chennai region on Wednesday was not adequate for even a day,” he said.

Another RBI official said that the number of complaints from Chennai banks about the safety of officials has been rising. “As the cash drains out fast, officials are forced to explain to the people standing in queue who abuse them,” said the official.

“The shortage of currency has been steadily worsening and branches are not able to make payments as per limits fixed by the government. They are forced to ration cash. Only a handful of bank branches in the state are able to release the weekly withdrawal limit, which is Rs 24,000,” said the official.

A senior state government official said that relief work during the cyclone was facing hurdles as contractors are unable to pay workers their daily wages. “Workers engaged in relief and cleaning work ask for cash to buy rations for the day,” said officials.

On Monday, cash replenishment agencies had informed banks in the state that they would not be able to work overtime due to staff safety concerns or accept currency to upload in ATMs after 11am.

“They have informed banks that they will not provide any ATM site services after 5 pm, and on Sundays and bank holidays. This will worsen the crisis with bank officials being gheraoed by the public for not releasing cash and opening ATMs,” said an RBI official.

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  1. G
    gopal
    Dec 15, 2016 at 4:30 am
    something goes wrong blame PM..as if he is a scape goat for everything..what were the state authorities doing? Chennai has only one problem now which is "No Power Supply". hope the state authorities take quick action and restore the power supply back to normal levels.
    Reply
    1. J
      James Bond
      Dec 15, 2016 at 1:58 am
      This is what happens when Bundlebaaz Jhumla party takes such stupid decisions. We are responsible for putting this party to power, and this this becomes our obligation that we remove this party in 2019. even i wud prefer to fo back to tye british rule!!!!
      Reply
      1. S
        Sankaran Krishnan
        Dec 15, 2016 at 3:18 am
        It is better the RBI and Banks comes with an solution and ensure enough cash is stored or available to Chennai residents who are all facing the Nature's fury in the name of Cyclone Vardah and already people are not having Electricity and with roads not restored due to trees falling, people will get angered if they fail to get back their money from the Bank accounts and do not forget that it is their money they are asking and not any favours from the Banks, OKAY !!!!
        Reply
        1. H
          Harminder Singh
          Dec 15, 2016 at 2:47 am
          An act of God anybody factored this aspect into all their analysis and calculations RADHE RADHE and how about the Malthusian theory of potion kicking in at some stage!
          Reply
          1. A
            Action man
            Dec 15, 2016 at 2:34 pm
            Don't talk as if u have seen everything we have given to get our freedom.Its very easy to say i want the british rule back but will u survive that??
            Reply
            1. C
              Critical
              Dec 15, 2016 at 3:29 am
              The cyclone was forecast fairly accurately and the authorities need to be ready with disaster plans and not be fire fighting each time. It is call for the RBI and the banks, even if it be beyond the call of duty, to stand up and help the people.
              Reply
              1. A
                Augustus
                Dec 15, 2016 at 4:44 am
                Chennai is battered and the AIADMK ba.stards are busy in falling at the feet of another b.itch, thought one is dead and gone but we have to put up with another one.
                Reply
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