Long waits continue for cash at banks, ATMs

New Delhi: A marked weariness was apparent among crowds that lined outside banks and ATMs in the capital on Friday, as the scramble for cash continued — 17 days after the government announced the sudden demonetisation of 500 and 1,000 rupee notes.

The queues outside banks were a little shorter on Friday, a day after the government announced stopping of across-the-counter exchange of the scrapped notes, but the lines at teller counters in banks or deposit counters did not see any shortening.

In fact, the shortage of cash, and the interminable wait at many banks for cash to arrive has led to a sense of weariness among the public, many of them small account holders, a sense of being resigned to their fate – of having to wait patiently for hours for the precious currency to show up.

In Gulmohar Park, the Central Bank of India branch has not seen cash coming in for the past few days. On Friday too, there was no sign of the cash till late afternoon. Middle-aged women sat on the few seats available, in half-sleeping postures, waiting for the money to arrive, and the line to begin moving. The men stood, but the tiredness was apparent. The cash came at around 4 p.m., but by then some had left, while the more hardy ones waited to get their money.

In South Extension, the lines outside the several ATMs appeared a tad shorter, but comprised of at least 30 persons. Some young men grabbed a quick lunch of chhole-kulchey, bought from the nearby kiosks, as they waited in line. The rumbling stomach, after all, needs food, and waiting cannot be done on an empty stomach.

In Noida Sector 16, most ATMs were without money. People kept coming to ATMs to find if there was any money and to ask when the money would be filled.

The only functional ATM was the SBI ATM – where not surprisingly there was a long queue, made up mostly of young people. Those at the end of the queue said loudly that they expected to wait for at least two-three hours but they didn’t see any other option as they had absolutely no cash, or were left with about 50 or 100 rupees.

Even outside ATMs that had no money, there were small crowds of people discussing the pros and cons of demonetisation. At one ATM in Noida, most people appeared unaware of the import of the November 8 demonetisation of 500 and 1,000 rupee notes – that at one go extinguished 86 per cent of the cash in the country.

A policemen from Uttar Pradesh in civilian clothes said the situation in small towns like Bulandshahr and Aligarh was very bad with regard to availability of cash. A young man remarked: “The BJP people are no saints, and everyone in politics, the BJP included, have black money.”

When the issue of black money cropped up, a security guard standing among the crowd, said he thought that by black money it meant any cash kept at home, and that only money kept in banks was “white money”. He was quickly corrected by others.

Ram, a young man who irons clothes for a living, said he has had no time to go to the bank so far to change the scrapped money. “I can’t afford to stand in queue. Who will do my work? How will I earn money to feed my wife and children? I make do with the little I earn.”

He added: “At least in Delhi, one gets to see some money. In the villages, the scene is very bad. There are regular fights over money, even some suicides.”

At the India International Trade Fair, which ends on November 27, exhibitors and traders were clearly upset over low sales-volume due to the cash crunch.

Saikat, a businessman from Kolkata, said he was happy to see throngs at Pragati Maidan here two weeks after the trade fair’s inauguration, but lamented that his expectations of business remained unmet.

“This year, we face a huge setback in terms of business. Customers who wanted to buy stuff bargained a lot this time since they did not have enough cash,” Saikat told IANS.