Six hours for a lousy Rs 500 currency note? What’s this, the iPhone 7?

Bid to exchange an old Rs500 currency note trips on red tape, chaos


India had seen the largest currency withdrawal programme in nearly 40 years, and a moderate to large crowd was certainly expected. Photo: PTI
India had seen the largest currency withdrawal programme in nearly 40 years, and a moderate to large crowd was certainly expected. Photo: PTI

Mumbai: I woke up early on Thursday morning and got dressed quickly to get out and convert the sole Rs500 currency note in my wallet. Typically, we journalists don’t carry a lot of cash in wallets (not that our bank accounts have much either). Banks were opening after a day’s break and India had seen the largest currency withdrawal programme in nearly 40 years, and a moderate to large crowd was certainly expected. “But then it was just one note, how long would it take to exchange?” I thought while clearly underestimating the average Indian’s need to be first in a queue.

I thought of visiting the closest bank branch I could find in Bandra West.

A sole Greater Bombay Cooperative Bank branch gave me some hope. I could see some people waiting for the bank to open so that they may feel rich again. As soon as the branch started its operations, I could see eager customers in the queue look spiffy, only to see the branch staff come out and tell them that they had not received any new currency notes and they did not have a ny new notes. The notes would only arrive after 4pm. “Six hours for a lousy Rs 500 currency note? What’s this, the iPhone 7?” I muttered under my breath while angrily kicking the ground.

Maybe the branch of a bigger bank might be a good idea, I thought to myself, carefully caressing the Rs500 note in my hand.

I walked up to an Axis Bank branch nearby, only to find out that the staff had run out of Rs100 currency notes in the first couple of hours. The staff told all of us to come back by tomorrow to get the new Rs500 and Rs 2,000 currency notes.

Maybe a public sector bank will be more amenable to my needs and ensure that I have enough liquidity to last the day before the automated teller machines (ATMs) start working from Friday. I got into an autorickshaw and asked the driver to drop me at a bank branch. Any bank branch would do, I said to myself. An Allahabad Bank branch on Pali Hill Road was the closest we could find. So I walked up to the gate, which was teeming with people at the door.

Apparently they wanted my original identity proof and self-attested photocopy to ensure that my money is converted into an acceptable currency over which I shall have ownership rights again. However, I quickly moved to the neighbouring private bank ICICI Bank, thinking the documentation system would be much easier.

ICICI Bank, I thought, would have a more streamlined process where the authorities wouldn’t want me to give them a hundred different documents. Of course, I forgot that this withdrawal of currency was a government initiative, so every possible box for paperwork has been ticked.

Besides, I had lost my old wallet only recently and all of my original government identity proofs were gone though I had the photo copies of them. The Rs500 note in my wallet was staring back at me with disdain, even as I tried to look for a way to get rid of it.

The staff at the ICICI Bank branch was considerate enough to come and tell me that there was no rush to come and convert my money to the new currency on Thursday. And, I could come back anytime later in the week.

Of course, I didn’t tell her about my lost identity proofs, but it felt good that these options were readily available for some more time. Anyway, I was getting late for a meeting and had to leave in a hurry.

Thank God! Uber does not depend only on cash payments.

This article has been amended to clarify the timeline of events

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