As note exchange deadline passes, helpless people in RBI queue blame govt
Friday, 31 March, was the deadline for exchanging old currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 which went out of circulation after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced their demonetisation in his address to the nation on 8 November 2016.
As people scrambled for their turn in the serpentine queue outside the Reserve Bank of India in New Delhi, they alleged that the government had cheated them.
There were all kinds of people in the queue: some who found notes after the bank deadline of 31 December, others who were not in the country when the move was announced, those who had come with currency notes found in the belongings of their dead relatives who passed away in the last few months, and even one person who was in jail, and got bail only a day before Holi.
Many said the government did not keep its promise that it would allow the exchange of old currency notes at the RBI till 31 March.
“Isn’t it dhokha (cheating)? First they said that with proper declaration, anyone could come and exchange notes till 31 March,” said Pramod Gupta, an auto driver, whose wife discovered a few thousand rupees in the closet as she was cleaning the house one day. “Public ka paisa public ka nahi hai.”
Shravan Kumar Sahu, an employee of the Ministry of External Affairs, was at the Indian Embassy in Washington DC when the note ban came into effect. He said: “This is the fourth time I have come to exchange notes. Notebandi has only helped Ambani. What benefit has it brought to the lives of a common man?”
Kulwant Singh is a senior citizen and a British passport holder, who arrived in India a few days ago.
“What do I do with the Rs 50,000 in old notes lying with me? This is my hard-earned money. The RBI has refused to exchange the notes. They are just allowing NRIs with an Indian passport to exchange notes,” he complained.
“My husband suffered a heart attack. My hand got fractured. This is the second time I have come to the RBI, but there's nobody to listen to us,” said Durga, as she waited in the queue, her eyes welling up.
“Will Modi see my tears? Two thousand rupees is a lot of money for a daily wager like me,” she said, flashing four Rs 500 notes.
“I took a loan against my Fixed Deposit to provide for the fees of my grandson. When my son paid me back, I kept the money safely in a saree, and then thought I had lost the money when I could not find it. A week back, I found the saree in the house with the money,” said Maya Sharma.
“I have Rs 1,13,000 in old notes. These are my life's savings. Whom do I go plead to?” she asked.
“We are not cheats. This is our hard-earned money. The least this government can do is give us another chance so that we can exchange our old notes.”
Mukesh Kumar's kidneys have stopped functioning, but he still had to queue up outside the RBI.
“I need money for the hospital bills. I have to go for regular dialysis. I found Rs 2,000 in the house. It is a lot of money,” he said, disappointed that the RBI had yet again refused to entertain his request.
“My father died on 23 December,” said Saeed-ul-Haque, flashing the death certificate. “I found Rs 10,500 in his cupboard. On what grounds are these people not allowing me to exchange the money?”
There are others like him in the queue. “My younger brother died in November. We found Rs 11,000 in his belongings. What do I do with the money now? These people refuse to exchange it,” said Kamal Singh.
Ashish Kumar, who got married in December, is angry.
“People gave us old currency notes in the many envelopes that we got as gifts,” he said. “The BJP got the money of its MPs and MLAs exchanged easily. But what about us poor people?”
Dharamveer from Shahjahanpur in UP was in jail when the note ban came into effect. “I got bail a day before Holi. I have Rs 47,500, and nobody else in the family could exchange them in my absence,” he said.
The deadline is now over. But will the government listen to these stories and help these people?