Mumbai: Three days after the government invalidated high-value currency notes, banks are unable to meet the demand for new replacements or low-value bank notes. As serpentine queues formed outside the entrances of bank branches and ATMs, embattled bank staff bore the brunt of customer displeasure.
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) released a statement saying it had made arrangements to distribute the notes in new Rs2,000 and other denominations across the country, but it also appealed to the public to be “patient”.
The cash crunch is so bad that ATMs even in the corporate offices of a bank ran out of cash. A senior banker who declined to be identified said that being senior management, they were given a packet of Rs20 bank notes to tide over the crunch, but even that is proving to be insufficient.
“The cash is drying up. But we are taking care of it. There is no need to panic,” said Arundhati Bhattacharya, chairman of State Bank of India.
It is not panic, but desperation that is leading to the ire of customers, many of whom are unable to get cash out of their bank accounts to pay for small purchases, whether for a loaf of bread or vegetables.
“This is my fourth attempt to withdraw money today. I had to walk all the way down from my home to attend office,” said Siddharth Ganguly, 36, who was waiting in front of an ATM.
Another customer, Ashutosh Kumar Mishra, 30, said he had to wait for six hours to get Rs4,000 in exchange for the old, demonetized notes.
Bankers and companies that manage and deploy ATMs say that they are facing three major issues—short supply of Rs100 currency notes, under-utilization of ATM capacity and logistic problems. Most ATMs are working at one-third of their capacity.
Also, the cassettes that hold cash in the ATMs have to be reconfigured to dispense new notes. The reconfiguration, which requires the deployment of three people on-site, is in testing phase right now. The process of reconfiguring ATMs across the country could take another 20-25 days.
Bank of Baroda, for instance, had filled up only 400 out of its 9,000 ATMs till noon Friday, according to its senior management.
Bank staff are being denied leave and are working overtime to ensure that at least those who want to deposit their old notes are able to do so. “My uncle died today, but I still had to come to work,” said a Punjab National Bank branch manager in Mumbai who didn’t want to be named.
SBI has accepted total cash deposits of Rs39,677 crore over the past two days (till 6pm on Friday) and exchanged cash worth Rs1,666 crore.
Bidya Sapam, Gopika Gopakumar, Sahib Sharma and Vishwanath Nair contributed to this story.