The queues at the designated RBI offices seem to be spilling over as the deadline for exchange of invalid notes by residents who were abroad during the cash ban window draws to a close on Friday. The anxiety is palpable as people are leaving nothing to chance and lining up at the RBI office in the national capital from the night itself so that they get to deposit the currency next day. The Reserve Bank has allowed Indian citizens who were abroad during November-December 2016 to exchange the scrapped notes up to March 31 and NRIs up to June 30. This facility is available at RBI offices in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Nagpur only. For some reasons or the other, there are several people who have not been able to deposit or exchange the junked notes or have discovered them after the end of the demonetisation period on December 30, who are now making a last-ditch effort.
“Since I am here in India for a short visit, I thought it would be prudent to finish with the RBI work on the first day itself. Therefore, I have come here directly from the airport,” Nikhil Kapoor, a US-based NRI, told PTI. He felt that given the queue, it seems impossible that the currency could be exchanged in a day.
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Disappointed, Ram Kumar, who works in Dubai, said: “There was no information about Red Channel procedure at the airport and I did not get the Customs certificate. So, I am being turned away after standing in the queue for six hours.”
He suggested that the RBI should have made arrangements for checking documents of those in the queue so that elimination could be done properly for those not carrying all the papers.
An agitated Kumar said: “This is not black money. It is money that I have earned, so why is the government creating so much fuss?”
Two elderly women Usha, 65, and Sumitra, 80, next to the RBI gate in Delhi, have threatened to commit suicide in case they are unable to get their old notes exchanged.
“I have found Rs 41,500 in clothes. The RBI officials are saying they will only exchange the notes of NRIs,” Usha said.
Yesterday, in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha, Minister of State for Finance Arjun Ram Meghwal had said ineligible persons queuing up at the Reserve Bank were responsible for longer queues.
The minister said the RBI has posted detailed instructions on its website clearly showing the eligibility parameters and other necessary documents required to be tendered for exchange of old notes.
“Long queues are formed in Mumbai and Delhi only as a number of persons from the neighbouring states are turning up here. Several staff members have been engaged to attend to the large number of people at the counters,” Meghwal said.
After scrapping the old Rs 500 and 1,000 notes on November 8, the government had permitted people to deposit the same in banks up to December 30, 2016.
Meghwal stated that while there is no monetary limit for exchange of currency notes for residents who were abroad during the demonetisation period, there is a cap for NRIs as per FEMA regulations.
NRIs coming to India are required to come through Red Channel disclosing to the Customs authorities at the airport the amount of now-defunct notes and secure a certificate to be tendered at the RBI at the time of exchange.
Retired Armyman Ram Pal Singh, from Meerut, has come to the RBI after he found Rs 14,000 in scrapped notes tucked in a trunk at home while preparing for his daughter’s wedding.
More than the queue, what is worrying him is the uncertainty of whether he will be allowed to get past the gate itself to the RBI building inside.
“I am hearing from others that they are allowing only the NRIs, but I have not travelled outside the country even once,” he said while trying to seek information from the CRPF guard who has been stationed here to control the crowd.
Unlike Singh, Canada-based IT consultant Vidur is well-prepared for the exchange, but his biggest concern is when his turn would come.
Giving him company is his wife and their baby, who is sweating profusely, finding it hard to bear the hot March-end heat, with the mercury inching closer to 40 degrees Celsius, a far cry from the cold climes of Canada.
A UK-based lady doctor, who requested anonymity, said she came to exchange “just Rs 20,000” but wasn’t allowed as she didn’t follow the required formalities at the airport.
“I am not sure what I will do now,” she said.
For Veer Chauhan, a bouncer from Greater Noida employed by a real estate firm, it is a feeling of “being cheated” by the government over the deadline.
“When the Prime Minister announced banning of the old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, he said we would be allowed to exchange till March 31 at the RBI. I believed in him, but now I am paying the price for it,” Chauhan added.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address to the nation on November 8 had said, “There may be some who for some reason, are not able to deposit their old Rs 500 or Rs 1,000 rupee notes by December 30, 2016. They can go to specified offices of the Reserve Bank of India up to March 31, 2017 and deposit the notes after submitting a declaration form.”
Unaware of the changes, Chauhan is almost resigned to his fate. “When the old notes were banned, I stood in long queues to get new notes and now I am still standing in queues to exchange the old ones,” he said, despair on his face.