27 Mar 2017 16:37 IST

Done to a turn

With the March 31 deadline almost here, we bring you scenes from outside RBI in Delhi

It’s quarter past nine. Surinder Kaur (72) is one of the many senior citizens in a serpentine queue outside the imposing Reserve Bank of India (RBI) building in central Delhi. This is the Chandigarh resident’s third attempt at depositing a part of her savings — in demonetised currency notes — with the banking institution. During her previous visit, she’d managed to reach only the yellow barricades near the main gate when Delhi Police officials announced that the counters had closed for the day. It added another trip to Delhi — she takes the Shatabdi — and a night stay at a relative’s. By the time an official’s voice from inside the building came alive through a loudspeaker — a daily ritual that alerts the people in waiting about counters being opened and shut — at 10.15 am, Kaur has already waited more than five hours.

Meanwhile, Promila Ghazan, a retired schoolteacher from Lucknow, joins the queue for the fourth time in a couple of weeks. She has ₹31,000 in her kitty, an amount she carried back to India from Sydney on February 11, 2017. “I was visiting my son. I hadn’t expected this chaos,” she says, pointing at people arguing over their place in the queue. “There should be counters for senior citizens. If I can’t get this done today, I’ll consider this money lost or stolen.”

Our conversation is interrupted by Bhagwati Prasad from Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh. A man who owns more than one paan shop in Delhi’s Mukundpur area, he wants to know if he can exchange the ₹4,000 his wife had “hidden” inside a photo frame. Prasad is one among the many in the crowd who are ineligible for the deposit scheme open till March 31. It is only for non-resident Indians as well as those Indians who were abroad between November 9 and December 30, 2016. And yet many others turn up at the RBI doorstep every day, hoping that some compassionate official will oblige. The same goes for Prasad, who grunts when told that he doesn’t stand a chance. “Will you go home and fight with your wife over this?” asks a bystander. “She will stop cooking,” comes the reply.

Ravi Rai’s* situation leaves no room for such jokes. A migrant labourer from Patna, he was in a Delhi jail the day demonetisation was announced. Rai was released in January 2017 and was returned ₹22,800, a sum he had deposited with the authorities at the time of his arrest. He claims that the money he collected on the day of his release was in old currency. Clutching a copy of his release order, he walks off in search of a lawyer.

At the exit gate, there are smiles and frowns. A couple from Ludhiana is heard arguing with their son in Canada over the phone. A colonel from Chandigarh is happy that his friend’s wife has deposited her money. “Keeping fingers crossed for my sister-in-law,” he says.

(*Name changed to protect identity. The article first appeared in The Hindu BusinessLine’s BLInk.)


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