Narendra Modi

Indian cash crisis deepens as ATMs run out of money

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 November, 2016, 1:51pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 November, 2016, 9:56pm

India’s cash crisis stretched into its third day as cash machines ran dry and people stood for hours in long lines to exchange their now-defunct notes, while a government official said the shortages will continue into December.

It’s a good move by the government to curb black money, but it is full of hassles for common people like us
Council worker Pushpendra Pankaj

India’s banks have been caught out by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s unexpected and widely-praised announcement late on Tuesday of the withdrawal of 500 rupee (US$7.40) and 1,000 rupee notes, part of a crackdown on tax evasion and the underground economy. The now-worthless notes account for 86 per cent of money in circulation, leaving many Indians with little or no cash.

Printing of a new 2,000-rupee note is ongoing, but work has only just begun on the replacement 500 notes, said an official in the Finance Ministry, who asked not to be identified because the official isn’t authorised to speak to the media.

Banknote shortages are likely to continue into next month, the official added. Finance Ministry spokesman D.S. Malik didn’t respond to calls seeking comments.

Armed soldiers and security officers were deployed outside banks to manage the growing crowds, who so far have waited patiently to exchange their currency. Banks are restricting withdrawals to 4,000 rupees per person, adding to the cash shortages.

Pushpendra Pankaj, a worker at New Delhi’s Municipal Council, said he had been waiting for one and a half hours at the Canara Bank branch near Parliament House to exchange his old 500-rupee notes. He said he had been told that the bank server had crashed, but was prepared to stay in line as he needed money for household expenses.

“It’s a good move by the government to curb black money, but it is full of hassles for common people like us,” said Pankaj.

Compounding the problem is the need to reconfigure the country’s 220,000 cash machines so that they can dispense the new 500 and 2,000 rupee notes, which do not fit into the existing cash trays in the ATMs, according to Navroze Dastur, the managing director for India and South Asia at NCR Corp., which supplies about two-thirds of the country’s ATMs. Dastur said it will take “some time” to adjust all the ATMs. Until then, the machines can only dispense low-denomination 100 rupee notes, which are increasingly in short supply.

The long queues outside India’s banks are a sign that the government was ill-equipped to deal with such a huge transition, said Manoj Joshi, a fellow with the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation.

“The whole exercise is premised on the fact that you’ll be able to implement it quickly and effectively. Governments in India simply don’t have that ability,” he said.

The central bank in a statement on Friday said banks have enough cash though it may take lenders time to revamp the ATMs.

Political rivals of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party were relaying images of the chaos on social media. The opposition Congress party tweeted photos of its party workers bringing chai, or tea, to ordinary people standing in line, while the Bahujan Samaj Party – which is hoping to beat the BJP in upcoming Uttar Pradesh state elections – was tweeting news reports on the long lines outside ATMs.

Axis Bank, the country’s third-largest private lender, said it was working on refilling its 13,000 ATMs with after they started to run out of cash soon after being loaded up on Wednesday.

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“Yesterday, banks ran short of cash around noon, Joshi said. “And we’re only talking about Delhi. God alone knows what’s happening in other parts of the country.”

Also in line outside Canara Bank in New Delhi was Fkrudeen Khan, who said he was waiting to withdraw money because he had only 25 rupees in his pocket: “The limit of 4,000 rupees set by the government is very little,” Khan said. “It should be higher than this. There is no money lying at home and I have to get some notes at any cost.”