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On 12 November, Day Four of the currency ban, the realization sank in that the currency crunch will last another two weeks. Early signs that the surgical strike at black money will cripple everyday life for a while came on Day Two, when most ATMs were shuttered. People expected Day Three to be better, but it was not. Day Four saw the finance minister give a timeline to the ATM functioning. Read the ATM changeover story here: He said that the need for secrecy prevented a full changeover of the ATM network.  Normal life, when a trip to the ATM is no longer a national network story, is still some distance away. By the end of Day Five, there were reports of an easing of the lines in some places.

Team Mint Money reported individual experiences from across the country, as witnessed on Saturday.

The cash crunch in Chennai
—Deepti Bhaskaran

Fourth day into the demonetisation of Rs500 and Rs1,000 notes and we saw tempers rising among people at the ‘mismanagement’ of the banks and hardships caused as a result. Even as banks were instructed to open on weekends, people had to wait long hours to get their money deposited or exchanged. The State Bank of India (SBI), Valmiki Nagar branch located on the second seaward Road in Chennai, ran out of money by noon and was only accepting deposits. ATMs at almost all the banks were shut, although they were expected to have been functional by 10 November. According to a branch in-charge of Canara Bank , the software upgrade and recalibration of the ATMs has not happened yet for the bank in Chennai. “There is complete chaos as nobody is willing to wait and have patience. Our ATMs have not started functioning yet, but our bank staff is doing overtime to help customers as much as possible," he said. 

The other problem that the bank faced was giving out smaller denomination notes. For instance, an HDFC Bank branch in the same locality had run out of smaller denomination notes and was offering Rs2000 notes only. 

The ATM at the branch had cash in the afternoon, and people queued up to withdraw money. However, the money in the ATM was not enough to meet the demands of all the people and it ran in a couple of hours. Some people came to the machine with multiple debit cards. 

The impact of the cash crunch was faced by local vendors, supermarkets and even restaurants. Singapore Shoppe, a supermarket in Thiruvanmiyur said that its footfalls had dropped drastically. “Some people are coming with Rs1000 notes to buy goods worth Rs200, because they need change (but) I don’t have any. So I am offering the old Rs500 as change. This cash crunch has seen a huge drop in customers," he said. The local kirana shop though accepted cheque payments and also agreed to refund Rs1,000 cash against the cheque payment. A restaurant in Adyar, which sees an average business of about Rs10,000 to Rs15,000 in a day, looked forlorn with only this reporter and one other customer.

The owner lamented that the daily earnings had dropped to Rs1,500.

Adrift in Assam
—Vivina Vishwanathan from Guwahati

I am on a holiday in Assam. We landed here and found the majority of the shops, restaurants and retail outlets were closed before the usual time due to lack of cash. Most ATMs are shut since 9 November. Mahesh Rajbongshi, a private vehicle driver (28), said, “Cash is being refilled only in a select number of ATMs. Usually, the cash gets replenished during the night hours. By morning it gets over." Rajbongshi’s attempts to get cash from his bank remained futile. “I was standing in a queue at the bank from 9 am to 1 pm. By the time my turn came, cash got over. I had to go back home without any money.... I couldn't get cash from ATMs, though I tried 10-15 of them. Almost 90% of the ATMs were shut. The ones that were open, had long queues."

Wake up in Worli
—Lisa Pallavi Barbora from Mumbai

On Friday, the lift man in the building where I live said that everything was fine and that we will have some trouble initially but its for the better as the bribes will stop. On Sunday he said: “I don’t know whether it’s good or bad. What I can say is that it’s very difficult for us."

For many in the lower-income population, the problem is made worse because of the fact that while they may have bank accounts, they don’t have debit cards. And worse, till now they had not realised the benefits of having one. This I found out after speaking to various people through the day.

But people are finding ways to get by.

Shopkeepers are coming up with innovative ways to work around the cash crunch. While some cash-only vendors are still accepting old currency, some are not. Most are giving credit to their regular clients. The grocery store has increased the trade cycle days with the suppliers. The suppliers are giving longer credit and the shopkeepers are giving credit to old clients.

Wholesalers in Mumbai’s Crawford market aren’t accepting Rs500 and Rs1000 notes and are not returning change.

One wholesaler I spoke to, hasn’t been able to exchange any money as his Aadhaar card doesn’t have his date of birth. He had also gone to his bank to get a credit and debit card swiping point of sale (PoS) machine, but the bankers have no time at the moment to service this request. The wholesaler says that he will surely get a PoS machine when the situation settles down.

Banks are also improvising to deal with this situation. For example, employees of a universal bank have been called in to help at the bank branches. So asset management company (AMC) and insurance employees are also helping out at the branches. By itself, the bank branches would not have had the manpower to deal with this situation.

The branch I surveyed, used to service about 300 customers per day. But on Wednesday and Thursday it handled around 6,000 people each day. Leaves of all bank employees have been cancelled—even if they had confirmed tickets and bookings. Only those who have events like marriages in the family, have been spared. Tiredness is now creeping into employees. But there is also relief and happiness because deposit targets have not only been met, but exceeded by a huge margin. Banks say that high-value deposits have not started coming in yet, and are expected to come in by December.

Everyone, from the common man to the bankers, expects the situation to settle down in two weeks or so.

Smoother in south Mumbai
—Kayezad E. Adajania

The normally quiet Hughes Road in South Mumbai—which lies on the city’s most important north-south link road where massive traffic jams are a daily occurrence but where cars usually zip by on weekends—saw unusual amount of activity on Sunday morning. Two private sector banks—HDFC Bank and Kotak Mahindra Bank—are located here. 

Different banks have different systems for dealing with the crowds. Typically, in private sector banks there are separate queues to deposit and change money. The queues for depositing money move faster as there appear to be fewer people depositing cash.

The queues for exchanging the older notes are longer. 

To be able to deposit money, you require a bank account, and this is not required to change the notes. Thus,people are seen heading to any nearby bank or wherever the queue appears to be shorter. 

This reporter’s experience has been smooth while depositing cash as well as exchanging notes at HDFC Bank. The Kotak Mahindra Bank branch at Hughes Road is working on a token system where the tokens are given and then the customers are told when to come back, depending on their token number.

That’s one of the reasons why the queue outside this branch appear to be negligible at certain hours of the day.

Meanwhile, the post office at Hughes Road wears a deserted look as it doesn’t, yet, like many of the post offices reported across the city, have any cash to dispense. The post offices, though, have been accepting cash deposits from those who have a savings account there.

Lalchand Tiwari, 62, a Mumbai-based taxi driver hailing from Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh (UP), who drives a traditional black-and-yellow taxi, is worried. “Ever since the Rs500 and Rs1,000 notes have been banned, my customer base has reduced by half. Earlier my income had dropped by 10% because of Uber and Ola type of cabs, but this currency situation has seen my earnings drop by 50%. That’s because people don’t have cash to spend these days. Those who have credit cards and online wallets use Uber and Ola. Usually I earn Rs500 after paying a token amount to the owner of this car. Now I get to keep just Rs200-250 a day. I have to prepare for my brother’s daughter’s wedding in UP. I am worried." But how are tax drivers bracing up for the cashless economy ahead. “The taxi union might have to think to move online or something to be able to accept online payments. We’ll have to do something," he added. 

Tiwari says that on Saturday he took a lady from South Mumbai to Khar (a Mumbai suburb) and the charge came to Rs500. She gave me Rs500 note but I told her I can’t accept it as it is banned. She said that that’s the only note she had at home and I was compelled to take it. Luckily, the petrol pump still accepts it. But even there, I was told that as change is not available, I have to fill petrol, in addition to compressed natural gas, to ensure the total comes up to Rs500. Now, I did not need petrol but I had to spend that money."

Dealing with it in Dwarka
—Kaveri Nandan

Krishna Kumar, 25, runs a Mother Dairy milk booth Delhi’s Dwarka. He is accommodating customers using tokens. “I give tokens of different value and then take them back also." On the first day, 9 November, there was almost no business. “Everyone was coming with Rs500 and Rs1,000 notes" He said that people were being forced to buy things they don’t need, just so that they can rack up a bigger bill. They are having to buy things that last longer, like butter and ghee. Says Rajneesh Kumar, 32, owner of Jain Bakery, New Delhi, Dwarka, Sector 5: “We are accepting Rs500 notes because the bank is also accepting it. So, there’s no problem. We have no small change problem—we give to whoever asks. This is money from what the customers pay."

A flower seller Vishwanath, 32, in Dwarka had this to say: “I paid Rs4,000-5,000 yesterday using Rs500 notes to buy flowers and other things. Regular customers are coming to buy flowers (for everyday prayers), and they pay Rs10, Rs5....Those who come for bigger purchases like weddings are trying to pay with Rs500 and Rs1,000 notes, but I am not accepting. Business is slow because people don't have smaller notes. My flowers will last for about a week. Hopefully things will improve by then."

Drastic steps in Dhanbad
—Ashwini Kumar Sharma from Dhanbad and New Delhi

Chemists in Dhanbad have been told to accept the old notes. A chemist from the city says that many people are buying large stocks of prescription and over-the-counter medicines such as sugar substitutes and vitamin capsules. Many have also come forward to clear their old dues. 

The night, and the day after, the currency demonetisation was announced were action filled. At least for the jewellers. Their shops were open till midnight though they usually shut down at around 7 pm. Gold was sold at more than Rs50,000 per 10 gram, and silver at around Rs75,000 per kilogram. The going was pretty smooth till a group of strongmen (called bahubali in the area) came in with loads of cash and a demand to convert to gold.

Many jewellers had run out of gold by then and fearing trouble, they downed shutters. 

The next day too, the strongmen came back with cash and demanded gold, a demand that the jewellers could no longer fulfil. Because of this, many traders did not open shops on Wednesday morning. 

Shops selling handloom and readymade clothes had less than 10 customers a day, even though this is the wedding season. Those who had accumulated cash for the upcoming marriage season, are now worried.

A neighbourhood kirana store-owner said that people were restricting themselves to the essentials. For example, he said, a family that use to buy Rs150-200 worth of chips and snacks everyday is now buying only milk and other necessities. A south Delhi-based dermatologist said that people are offering to pay in advance for hair transplant and other surgeries, even if the surgery can only be scheduled after 3 months from now. Most of such customers are not asking fro any discounts.

Property dealers are also witnessing sudden increase in demand as many said to be accepting the older Rs500 and Rs1,000 notes.

A prospective buyer has said that he got calls from some dealers, telling him that he could pay cash in the older currency notes. However, these dealers were insisted that the price was non-negotiable. 

Stories from smaller towns
—Uttaresh Venkateshwaran from Nagpur, Vadodara and Beed

Anurag Anand, a marketing professional from Vadodara, says: “I have been going to various ATMs for the past 2 days. Many people are coming with several cards... The cash dries up very soon because of it. I tried for the third day, but still no luck. I had no choice but to stand in a queue at another bank and finally withdrew Rs3,000." 

In Nagpur, businessman Shishir Puranik spent a good part of his day outside an ATM. However, after waiting for almost 2.5 hours, he was told that the ATM is out of cash. The 59-year-old then visited another bank and waited for another 1 hour to withdraw some cash. “The one good thing was, being a Saturday, ATMs in business districts were less crowded. I have friends who were able to withdraw money from those ATMs conveniently," said Puranik. 

Residents of Beed, however, are not too concerned about the currency demonetisation. Shantanu Kulkarni, a native of Beed, works in Pune. He travels to his home town regularly. He says: “Everyone in Beed lives off credit, especially when it comes to groceries and medicines, settling everything at the end of each month. So, right now, people are not too worried and there is barely any crowd at ATMs when I visited. I think people will realise the intensity of the problem at the end of the month," he said.

Clueless in a foreign city
—Rashmi Aich from New Delhi

I spoke to Mark Nicholas, an American tourist in New Delhi. He is quite clueless about what needs to be done about the Indian currency that he has. Nicholas is in India on a 3-week vacation but he has been running from pillar to post since the demonetisation was announced. "I have checked with several money changers but have not been able to exchange my Rs500 and Rs1,000 notes. Banks are asking to go to the airport forex exchange counter. But the airport counter has facility for only exchanging (up to) Rs5,000 and I have around a lakh in cash for the trip. I have wasted much of my trip on this now," he said.

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