Cancelling breaks, crowds throng Mumbai banks

Mumbai, Nov 12 (IANS) Huge crowds of people, many of who had to cancel their long weekend break, continued to throng banks and ATMs on Saturday to exchange demonetized Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes and withdraw money for routine household expenses here.

As the serpentine queues ran into their third consecutive day, many who had planned for the pre-November 14 weekend outings to Maharashtra hill stations or sea resorts were stuck in the city confines.

“We had plans to drive down to Dahanu for a family beach holiday as the winter has set in and hill stations are quite chilly.

“But we cancelled it at the last minute due to this sudden demonetization as we had no spare cash left,” rued a businessman, Chittaranjan Shah.

Ditto was the situation with thousands of Mumbaikars, who had to cancel their travel and hotel bookings; many even forfeiting the advances paid as they struggled to exchange or withdraw their own money.

Armed with the demonetized Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes they waited their turns to withdraw or deposit money for routine household expenses.

November 12 was a regular fortnightly off for all banks. However, all public and private banks were working on Saturday and Sunday — the regular weekly offs, and many plan to remain open on November 20 as well.

The current weekend is one of the few with a Saturday, Sunday and a public holiday on Monday due to Guru Nanak Jayanti. Mumbaikars exploit such weekends for short refreshing breaks to one of the many hill stations or beach resorts in the state or neighbouring Goa.

Though panic subsided to a large extent, long queues of anxious citizens continue to throng outside banks/ATMs across Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra.

A handful of branches in the suburbs made drinking water arrangements for the people waiting in the blazing sun, but there was no shade or seating arrangements.

Quarrels broke out at several places, mostly among youngsters or others in a hurry, who attempted to break the queues. Others loudly objected, particularly at ATMs where replenished stocks of cash emptied quickly.

Mumbai was shocked by the death of a senior citizen Vishwanath Vartak, who suffered a heart attack, while waiting for hours outside a bank branch in Mulund on Friday to exchange some old cancelled bills.

Maharashtra Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant held the government squarely responsible for Vartak’s death and pointed out how everybody was suffering due to the unplanned implementation of the demonetization.

Social and community events, marriages, engagement ceremonies, birthday celebrations, etc took a hard hit in the absence of hard cash, both for gifting purposes or payments to the caterers, venue rents and decorators.

Small businesses, roadside stalls and street vendors including the omnipresent ‘chai-wallah’ continued to sit virtually idle with barely any customers.

Many turned away customers with new Rs 2,000 or Rs 500 notes in the absence of change in smaller denomination currencies.