Malaysian students face rupee woes
Large crowds at Indian banks and their distance from universities mean it's nearly impossible for Malaysians studying in India to change outdated notes
BY R.S.N. MURALI and NEVILLE SPYKERMAN
Thousands of Malaysian students in India are in limbo following the Indian government’s decision to scrap its 500 and 1,000 rupee currency notes.
The notes are no longer legal tender but huge crowds at Indian banks – many located far from their universities – make it close to impossible for the students to change their outdated notes, said Malacca Action Group for Parents in Education (Magpie) chairman Mak Chee Kin.
“The distance from their universities to the banks is an inconvenience as most of these students had withdrawn large sums of money before the government’s decision to scrap the notes.
“A visit to the bank is often met with disappointment and a sea of people queuing up.
“It takes four to five hours before the notes can be changed to smaller denominations,” said Mak, adding that Magpie had received distress reports from the affected Malaysian students.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced on Nov 8 his government’s decision to scrap the 500 and 1,000 rupee notes to fight corruption and counterfeit notes in the country.
The two notes had accounted for 85 per cent of the total money in circulation in India and ceased to be legal tender from November 9.
The scrapped notes in circulation have to be deposited in Indian banks by the end of December, with the country issuing a new series of 500 and 2,000 rupee notes that entered circulation on Nov 10.
Mak said many financial institutions in India were unable to cope with the demand to change the notes due to the huge number of people making a beeline to change the notes.
He said shops throughout the country, including the students’ university canteens, no longer accepted the scrapped notes.
“Our students are desperate and some have asked their parents back home to send smaller denominations so that they can buy food and personal items,” Mak said.
Other students, he added, had resorted to borrowing money.
Mak appealed to the Foreign Ministry to step in and help the students.
He also suggested a government-to-government arrangement where the Central Bank of India would set up counters in universities with a significant number of foreign students.
The new 2,000 rupee note is also causing a headache to Malaysian students who have managed to get some.
Many shops and restaurants are unwilling to accept the new notes because they do not have change in smaller denominations.
Having arrived in Mangalore, Karanataka, in October, R. Devika, 20, and almost half her class of about 150 do not have a local international student bank account yet due to red tape. They have been forced to improvise.
“We gave our old rupee notes to our friends with accounts for deposit to get the new currency,” she said.
With traders unwilling to accept the new notes just yet, Devika and her friends resorted to pooling their money and going out to eat in big groups so that they could make “bulk payment”.
Dentistry student Mohamad Haikal Zakaria, 20, said banks and ATMs had shut down in Chennai.
With only 120 rupees (US$1.77) in his wallet, there was no way to get cash for provisions, he said.
“We can only use our debit cards in big outlets but we cannot go to the market,” said the student leader, who is facing the predicament with about 50 to 60 other Malaysian students in his university.
Unlike students at other universities, Mohamad Haikal said they were fortunate as they were provided with a card that allowed them to eat at the cafeteria.
G. Kumar, who is also studying in Chennai, said there seemed to be no end to the crisis.
“The Indian government has assured the public that the problem would be settled within two days, but it has dragged on for over a week. It’s really inconvenient,” Kumar said.
Malaysia’s Consul-General in Chennai Ahmad Fajarazam Abdul Jalil said they had been in touch with Malaysian student leaders and were also assisting Malaysian tourists.
He said students could contact the consulate.
Students on government scholarships receive their allowance in US dollars and should have local bank accounts to make debit payments.
Ahmad Fajarazam said there were 2,000 Malaysian students in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
He advised Malaysians to bring along their passports when going to Indian banks to deposit their notes.
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