New Delhi: There was no end to chaos for a second straight day across India on Friday as millions thronged banks and ATMs to deposit the spiked currency and withdraw cash, only to face an unprecedented cash shortage.
With tempers flaring at banks and on the streets, two staffers of a private bank branch here were assaulted by angry customers after they were told there was no cash to disburse, witnesses said.
All over the country, residents and correspondents reported serpentine queues outside banks even before they opened for the day. While the scenes were orderly in many places, desperation led to chaos in most others.
Most people complained that they were running out of cash to buy even essentials as they had not done any banking since Tuesday midnight — when the 500 and 1,000 rupee notes ceased to be legal tender.
“The rush today is more than yesterday (Thursday),” a guard at a State Bank of India branch in Noida, adjoining Delhi, told IANS. It was the same story almost everywhere.
Government ministers again justified Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to spike the 500 and 1,000 rupee currency in a bid to check black money and corruption.
BJP President Amit Shah denounced the opposition. “I can’t understand the problems of these political parties. Why do they oppose demonetisation?”
On the streets, some frustrated people provided the answer.
“We don’t know whether this measure will check black money or not but we have been put into massive inconvenience,” complained Manoj Kumar, a Noida shopkeeper, echoing a widely held view.
The widespread complaint was that despite queuing up to surrender or exchange the spiked currency and withdraw cash from their own accounts for hours, many could not even enter the overcrowded banks.
In most cases, the crowds were so thick that they spilled over to the roads, causing traffic problems. Police had a tough time managing traffic and agitated bank customers.
In New Delhi, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi surprised everyone by joining a zig-zagging queue outside the SBI on Parliament Street saying he wanted to get Rs 4,000 exchanged for new currency.
“I want to stand in the queue… People are suffering,” he said.
Criticism of the government move was rampant, more because of its suddenness and the resultant hardships it had caused to households as well as businesses.
“There is an anarchy like situation in India,” Congress leader Anand Sharma said. The AAP urged its activists to help out illiterate people in the queues.
In the first clear sign that the demonetisation was having a political fallout, it emerged that the Prime Minister seemed to have lost over three lakh followers on Twitter.
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) said there was enough cash with banks across the country to exchange the demonetised Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes though it may “take a while for the banks to recalibrate their ATMs”.
In Lucknow, people stuck in serpentine queues outside banks and ATM kiosks got rowdy in some places. At others they openly aired their frustration.
Overworked bank staff complained that they were doing their best but people were insisting on taking out more than the permissible 4,000 rupees per day, claiming family emergencies.
The anger mounted when banks ran out of cash even before their stipulated closure time. As for ATMs, tens of thousands did not function in state after state, mainly because they were not configured for the new 2,000 and 500 rupee notes.
A dentist in Kerala said she was accepting cheques from known customers.
Engineering student Ranjan Samal despaired in Bhubaneswar that he had run out of money. SBI customer Sudhakar Rao complained in Hyderabad that he was in the queue for two hours and tired. Chennai resident Syed Ishtiaq Ahmed, a senior citizen, said he had no money to buy milk and vegetables.
“There is a severe shortage of 100 and 50 rupee notes,” a Chennai banker admitted to IANS.
The crisis resulted in some tragedies also. A 48-year-old man who had reached the State Bank of Travancore in Kannur in Kerala fell from the third floor of the building and died, said police, while in Mumbai a senior citizen standing in a queue outside a bank to exchange his demonetised notes died of a heart attack.
Apart from this tragedy, there was no end to people’s woes in Mumbai as thousands of ATMs did not dispense cash. And those who succeeded in making withdrawals from banks on Thursday encountered problems exchanging them in the markets for smaller denomination notes that seemed to have virtually disappeared.
As much as Rs 53,000 crore was deposited with the SBI in the last two days after the demonetisation, the bank said. The SBI also exchanged currencies valued around Rs 1,500 crore.
However, happy days were reported by the National Payments Corp of India Ltd (NPCI), which recorded a 100 per cent surge or double its normal usage of RuPay cards at points of sales in the past 48 hours.
The government has said that banks across the country will remain open on Saturday and Sunday too. But few expect the problems to wane soon.