As the demand for smaller denomination notes surged, many bank branches in Chennai started downing shutters while ATM counters put up boards reading “ATM Out of Service”.
According to senior officials of banks and Reserve Bank of India (RBI) officials based in Chennai, the situation was getting worse as they did not have enough currency notes to release through branches or ATMs. The result: RBI started returning soiled notes to bank branches for circulation again, worth a total of Rs 50 crore to SBI in Tamil Nadu alone. So apart from handling the huge crowd, bank employees were busy sorting less damaged notes for circulation.
A top RBI official told The Indian Express that the central bank was unable to respond to calls from bank officials as they themselves had run out of currency for remittance. “On an average, an ATM counter used to have a stock of Rs 20 to Rs 40 lakh, with currency notes in three denominations (Rs 100, 500 and 1,000). With the demonetisation, we could upload notes of only Rs 100 denomination and that, too, a maximum of Rs 2 to Rs 4 lakh in an ATM,” said the official.
Another RBI official said they had already returned soiled notes worth crores to bank branches. “We are facing a huge shortage of Rs 100 notes,” he said, ignoring multiple calls on his phones from bank officials. “There was zero preparation. Had it been such a crucial plan, the authorities shouldn’t have done it in this irresponsible manner. It has forced us to return dirty and damaged notes to branches for circulation,” he said.
A senior SBI official said the soiled notes could only be used in branches, not ATMs. “ATM machines are too sensitive to handle damaged notes. They get stuck in the machine,” he said. Moreover, according to various banks, the usual storage of cash in ATMs (in three denominations) worth Rs 20 lakh to Rs 40 lakh would last two or three days, except during month-end, salary dates and festival seasons. “But since we could upload only Rs 2 lakh to Rs 4 lakh (Rs 100 denomination), many ATM counters ran dry before Friday noon. The RBI says it doesn’t have enough currency,” said the regional head of a nationalised bank.
Many ATM machines also need to be reconfigured to load Rs 100 notes as their cassettes are configured for separate denominations (including Rs 500 and Rs 1,000).
Asked about RBI’s statement urging people to exercise patience in exchanging notes, bank managers in Chennai said their employees were being harassed by customers. “Nobody wants Rs 2,000 notes as there is no change available. We are getting reports of heated arguments and minor scuffles at branches and ATM counters,” said an official.
The office of the SBI Chief General Manager, Chennai Circle, B Ramesh Babu, refused to detail the crisis. “We are not issuing any release today,” said the secretary to the CGM.