The familiar smiling faces one sees outside ATMs on payday were replaced with sullen ones on Thursday- the first payday after the Modi government’s demonetisation decision on November 8.
Faced with currency shortage and long queues, banks on Thursday resorted to rationing of cash at many branches countrywide but met with limited success to handle the huge pay-day rush, while ATMs continued to remain mostly dry, causing hardship to people seeking to withdraw money.
On Wednesday, a top government official claimed that special efforts are being made to pump in additional cash into banks to meet the heavy demand for currency notes on account of salary withdrawal but the situation on the ground is still a far cry.
RBI Governor Urjit Patel had earlier said the central bank is monitoring the situation on a daily basis and taking all necessary actions to “ease the genuine pain of citizens” with a clear intent to normalise the things as early as possible.
Nearly 90 per cent of the 2 lakh ATMs deployed across the country have apparently been re-calibrated to dispense the new 500 and 2,000 rupee notes, says a key maker of the machines even as millions of people continue to face an acute cash shortage.
Already starved of cash due to demonetisation, people across India suffered more pain amid stray violence on Thursday as queues outside banks and ATMs got longer after November salaries and pensions were credited.
As the government struggled to keep pace with the demand for cash after 86 per cent of currency - 500 and 1,000 rupee notes - in circulation was declared illegal on November 8, people appeared to be losing patience in a country where nearly 80 per cent of consumer payments are done in cash. In Uttar Pradesh, police said violence erupted at many places as mobs targeted banks and staffers after being told there was either little or no cash available to be withdrawn.
Chaotic queues tested people’s patience as millions in India waited in long lines for money to meet their monthly needs and pay their domestic help, school fees and clear their monthly grocery and other bills.
People were agitated as several banks rationed withdrawals – despite the government’s upper limit of Rs 24,000 a week.
Some bank officials said they were getting cash from the Reserve Bank of India much below their needs. A banker in Delhi said that on a “payday we got only one-fifth of the normal”.
In Kolkata, the city of joy, an angry mob surrounded the manager of a state-run Punjab National Bank branch and a section of government staff protested at the RBI office after failing to get cash.
On the roads in Delhi and adjoining areas, people, anticipating massive queues, waited outside ATMs and banks since early morning to be among the first to get money. But many returned disappointed.
Shiv Kumar of Noida said he reached the ICICI Bank in Sector 18 hours before it opened. “Though the limit on withdrawals is Rs 24,000, banks are giving away only Rs 5,000,” he said, after a nearly three-hour wait.
In Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh, as people in various places queued up to get money, they were greeted by the signs of ‘No Cash’ outside banks and ATMs.