[A long queue of cash strapped people outside Bank of Maharashtra, Malegaon. (Photo: ummid.com)]
New Delhi: Chaotic scenes played out across India on Saturday, with long lines growing even longer and scuffles breaking out, as millions of anxious people tried to change old currency notes that became worthless days earlier when the government demonetized high-value bills.
In New Delhi, the capital, angry scuffles broke out after ATMs ran out of bills. Minor stampedes occurred at two banks in the city’s old quarter when thousands of people waiting in line surged forward.
Paramilitary troops posted at banks in some of the most congested areas of the city walked among the crowds urging people to stay calm. Frustrations grew as reports came in that some banks had run out of new currency notes, according to Associated Press.
On Friday, two deaths have been reported in Maharashtra. A 73-year-old man collapsed and died after standing for hours outside a bank in Mumbai whereas a 52-year-old man died in Malegaon after unsuccessfully waiting for exchanging old notes.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Tuesday immediate demonitization of currency notes of 1,000 and 500 denominations in what he described as his first move to curb black money and put a stop to parallel economy.
“I am so angry at the lack of planning on the part of the government before taking such an enormous step,” said Raju Sundaram, an office executive, waiting outside a bank in the south Delhi neighborhood of Saket.
Sundaram, who had been in a slow-moving line for four hours, said it was the third consecutive day that he was lining up outside his bank. “On Thursday and Friday, they ran out of cash before my turn,” he said, as he clutched a bunch of identity papers and a bottle of water.
Winding lines were seen at major banks in central Delhi, as people waited to withdraw new currency bills.
Meanwhile, anger was mounting as people, frustrated with the delays and long hours spent in serpentine lines, lost their cool, lashing out at the government and bank employees.
“If it’s bad outside the bank, it’s complete chaos inside,” said Suniti Kumar, a housewife, as she elbowed her way out of a bank through a restive crowd.
Many banks ran out of currency notes, and overworked bank staff who have been working long hours, or in shifts, appeared helpless.
“This is a hugely disruptive step,” said a bank teller in Delhi’s shopping hub of Connaught Place, as he stepped outside for a cigarette. “It required a lot more planning, but that didn’t happen.” He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Delhi police said they received more than 3,000 emergency calls reporting fights and scuffles in the city Friday as people crowded outside banks, waiting to exchange notes or withdraw money.
On Saturday, nearly 200 calls had been received in the first four hours since the banks opened at 9 a.m. local time, according to police.
In the southern city of Kollam, furious crowds smashed glass panes and vandalized a bank after the manager announced sto waiting clients that the bank had run out of new bills.
Many ATMs, which reopened four days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced demonetisation of two higher value currency notes, ran out of cash in few hours, leaving people frustrated.
Panic also mounted becuase more than 200,000 ATM machines in the country had not been reconfigured to dispense the new 2,000-rupee notes introduced by the government.
The process, they say, will take over a month for the machines all over the country to start functioning.
ATMs and their cash trays so far were mainly made to dispense 100 and now-spiked 500 and 1,000 rupee notes. The two high denomination notes were declared illegal by the government on November 8.
Experts said since the new Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 notes would be different in size and shape from the old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 ones, engineers would have to readjust the cash trays, or cassettes, and the software running the machines.