The long queues outside banks since November 10 is expected get lengthier today. The lines comprise of pensioners, senior citizens, retirees and also employees who are waiting to draw their monthly emoluments due to them. So alongside the depositors of annulled notes, there is this queue outside most banks which will only get longer as the day goes. Millions of central and state government staff and private sector employees' salaries are credited into their bank accounts and a large majority is usually withdrawn in the first and second weeks of a month.
Given the fear that banks are running short on cash, a number of panic-stricken citizens are expected to approach bank branches for their money instead of opting for cashless payments.
Most ATMs, despite the government’s and many banks' claims, are out of service or are not running dry too soon.
The huge crowds outside banks are hoping that they get the cash that has been deposited into their accounts. But will they, is the question.
As customers cry hoarse for their money, how are bank staffers equipping themselves to meet with the cash shortage, currency denomination shortage and their customers?
“The banks do not have the money to dispense to the large hordes of their customers,” says CH Venkatachalam, general secretary of the All India Bank Employees’ Association (AIBEA). Banks do not have enough currencies in Rs 100 denominations. The new Rs 500 are trickling in slowly into ATMs and banks. In fact, the RBI has started supplying Rs 500 denomination currency notes yesterday but they are not in adequate supply to meet with the expected need of the large customers expected to enter the bank when it opens for transactions today.
Before the Modi government’s demonetisation announcement on late evening of 8 November, over 1,660 crore pieces of Rs 500 notes were in circulation, representing nearly Rs 8.3 lakh crore of total currency in circulation. According to a ToI report, bankers say that now less than Rs 2,000 crore in new Rs 500 notes has come in.
The currencies are printed in government presses besides that of the Reserve Bank of India. Sources told the TOI that the currency presses owned by the government at Nashik and Dewas are printing Rs 500 while the RBI's currency presses in Salboni (West Bengal) and Mysuru are printing Rs 2,000 and Rs 100 notes.
“We have limited Rs 100 notes and have Rs 2,000 notes which we can dispense but not as much as the customer is mandated to as per government notification of Rs 24,000 weekly. Customers do not want Rs 2000 notes and we do not have enough Rs 100 currency notes. We end up being abused and shouted at by customers. I am dreading what I will have to hear today at the bank while sitting in the counter,” said a bank employee to Firstpost.
Venkitachalm says that Rs 100 notes that are soiled are being pushed back into circulation. These are unhygienic and bank staffers are falling ill handling these notes what with the bad smell it gives off, he alleged. “It is not helping our cause as staffers have to bear customers' ire when they are given these notes,” he said.
Not all 2.2 lakh ATMs across the country have been calibrated to accept the changed size of the new Rs 2000 and Rs 500 notes with the result that the queues in banks are unmanageable. With more bank branches opened in the last five years with small spaces along with the ATM and e-lobby, bank premises have becomes restrictive. Given the huge rush expected with salary withdrawals in the first week of December, bank staff will have to bear the brunt of the large number of customers and suffocation due to space crunch, pointed out Venkatachalam.
There is not enough staff to manage the situation that has erupted in the country post demonetisation. Temporary staff cannot be hired as banks deal with money and the last thing they want on their hands in the fragile situation is for security breaches. There are limited computer terminals within banks to operate daily business. “Even if the government allows us to hire temporary staff, where are the terminals,” asks Venkitachalam.
Customers who are furious at the continued daily ration of Rs 2,500 from ATMs (most of which are not functional) with which they are barely able to meet their needs have resorted to bizarre methods of locking up bank staffers in a bid to get money after banking transactions are over. Staffers are constrained having had to work longer hours and dealing with annoyed customers. “We understand their agony but what can we do,” asks a bank staffer in a government bank.
The need of the hour is for the government to print more currency notes in government presses and for the RBI and the government to coordinate well so that the currency supply meets with the legitimate demands of the customers.
“Banks are doing all the work the government mandates from exchange of notes, pension, Jan Dhan accounts and yet government banks are facing cash crunch but not private banks,” says Venkatachalam, adding that banks are not chit fund companies but repositories of faith. “We are concerned how things will turn out,” he said.