13 Nov, 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.
On Tuesday, India’s government made a surprise announcement that all 500- and 1,000-rupee notes had no cash value, in an effort to tackle corruption and tax evasion.
“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 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.
But there were problems because more than half of India’s more than 200,000 ATMs had not been reconfigured to dispense the new 2,000-rupee notes introduced by the government, according to Finance Minister Arun Jaitely. He said it would take two to three weeks for all the ATMs in the country to be recalibrated to handle the new notes.
“We knew at the outset that the replacement of this much currency cannot happen overnight. It is a massive operation, and it has only begun,” Jaitely told reporters Saturday.