Anger and impatience rose across the country as banks struggled to cope with the rush of people wanting to exchange junked notes, while more than half the ATMs remained out of service for the fourth day in a row and the operational ones ran out of cash within hours.
There were reports of skirmishes between people who had queued up to exchange or deposit their old and now defunct 500 and 1000 rupee notes and bank officials over the long wait and banks falling short of cash.
As not all the 2.02 lakh ATMs in the country have been calibrated to vend new, differently sized Rs 2000 and Rs 500 notes and the old Rs 100 ones, small businesses which deal mostly in cash were hugely impacted. Bankers are expecting even greater rush tomorrow as it is Sunday.
Many of the customers who were turned away would also throng the branches tomorrow. The demonetisation, some economist say, has dealt a big blow to purchasing power, particularly of lower middle class and may lead to short-term disruption in economic activity. Banks had shut for one day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday night suddenly announced demonetisation of higher denomination notes.
ATMs were supposed to start functioning from Friday but Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said it may take up to 3 weeks for normalcy to return. “ATMs could not have been calibrated (before the announcement) because of secrecy issue.
Thousands of people are involved in recalibration exercise (and) secrecy could not have been maintained. Recalibration takes at least 2-3 weeks,” Jaitley said. Serpentine queues were witnessed at bank branches for the third straight day across the country.
Similarly, people were seen impatiently waiting outside ATMs to withdraw money. People including elderly and women in large numbers were queueing up to get the new currency notes to meet daily expenses.
The endless wait to get new currency notes is taking its toll on people waiting for hours in long queues as there were reports of many elderly people taking ill and some even collapsing.
Acknowledging hardships faced by the elderly, Jaitley said the Finance Ministry and RBI would try to make special arrangements for them. Banks have made withdrawals at their ATMs free and waived cash handling charges till December 30. Private lenders like Axis Bank have started waiving surcharges on usage of cards at petrol pumps.