Cash-starved Indians scramble at crowded banks, ATMs (Roundup)

New Delhi, Nov 12 (IANS) Tempers ran high as millions of anxious cash-starved people waited for hours for the third day in a row on Saturday outside overworked banks to deposit or exchange their spiked denomination notes or withdraw cash from heavily crowded ATMs across India.

There was no end in sight to the misery as people continued to suffer in getting cash to buy daily essentials. And to add to their miseries, many complained that shopkeepers have started charging exorbitant rates as retail sales plummeted.

Desperate people began forming serpentine queues outside banks much before they opened – the way they have been doing since Wednesday morning, a day after the government announced demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes.

The frustration and anger was growing among people holding the now-invalid 500 and 1,000 rupee notes in the winding queues outside almost all banks in the country.

Although a second Saturday is a holiday for most banks, the government had ordered them to function over the weekend to cater to customers who wanted cash in lower denominations and new currency notes of Rs 2,000.

The long queues spilled on to the roads, creating traffic bottlenecks at various places.

“This is a complete mess,” rued Shankar, a south Delhi resident. “At this rate how will any of us even get into the bank and when?”

Police had to be called in after a quarrel broke out among impatient crowds outside the Central Bank of India at Gulmohar Park in south Delhi.

In Mumbai, many cancelled their long weekend break and queued up outside banks and ATMs to fight the cash constraint. “We had plans to drive down to Dahanu for a family beach holiday. But we cancelled it at the last minute as we had no spare cash left,” rued a businessman, Chittaranjan Shah.

ATMs, dispensing only Rs 100 notes, were running out of cash. Nearly two lakh teller machines, which account for much of the cash withdrawal in India, are yet to be readied to dispense Rs 50 notes or newly-minted Rs 2,000 bills.

This has added to the problem – a fact Finance Minister Arun Jaitley acknowledged.

Jaitley said it would take two-three weeks to recalibrate the ATMs across the country for the new notes. “It will be a slow process. Such a big cash replacement cannot happen in a mechanical way overnight,” the minister said.

The government appealed for patience with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was in Japan, saying people had largely hailed his decision but some were being prodded to protest.

In Chennai, several angry customers vented their frustration at ATMs after failing to take out money from their accounts, officials said.

“The loss due to vandalism will be around Rs 10 crore and we have claimed compensation from the banks,” V. Balasubramanian, President of a white label ATM operator, told IANS.

Fisticuffs also broke out among customers in several parts of the country with some ire directed at bank officials who have been called upon by the government to meet the huge demand for currency notes of lower denomination.

Amid the cashlessness, shopkeepers were charging higher rates.

“I bought a packet of biscuits which normally costs Rs 10 for Rs 15. And the shopkeeper refused to return change saying he doesn’t have any,” Sarita Dhar, a Noida resident, told IANS. She said she had given a Rs 100 note to the shopkeeper and was forced to buy goods for the entire money “that too at higher rates”.

Asked about over charging, a grocery owner in Lajpat Nagar said: “I am selling less and wholesale prices have also gone up. I have to make up for losses. Who will pay?”

Business across the nation remained dull as small traders said they were badly affected because their business has gone down by nearly 50 per cent in the last three days.

Industrial hubs in Punjab and Haryana were also suffering as representatives complained their business transactions were badly hit.

Imran Khan, a private company employee in Noida, said the government should have planned better to deal with the situation.

Another anxious customer, a small business owner in Noida, seeing the massive queue ahead of him, sarcastically said: “Better go and ask Modi what to do.”

A man standing outside a bank in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk said he took leave to get some cash to meet his daily needs.

But till evening his wait had not ended like millions of others across the country.