Demonetisation: Chaos prevails as March 31 deadline expires

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Confusion over whether the March 31 deadline to exchange old currency notes applied to NRIs only created ruckus outside the RBI office in Delhi. People braved the heat and left with a bitter heart, accusing the BJP government of being an NRI government 

Shalini Sharma Delhi

Standing under the sweltering sun for hours at length, a crowd of around 100 people lost its patience as the RBI shut its gate at 3 pm. March 31 was the last day to change old, demonetized 500 and 1000-rupee notes for Non-resident Indians (NRIs) and Indians who were abroad during the 50 days of demonetization. However, majority of the people who had gathered outside the RBI office in New Delhi had come from areas around the national capital and had been standing in the queue since 4 or 5 in the morning, in the hope of getting their notes exchanged.

Lalita, who had come from Agra, said, “I have been inside the office 6-7 times and every time the officers have told me to come with a passport. They are saying that those who are living outside India can get their notes exchanged, not us. I want to tell the Modi government that the number of people living in India is far greater than the number of people living abroad. We are the ones who voted for him and now if he does this to us, we don’t want this sarkar. Ye sarkar ab NRI sarkar ho gayi hai. (This government has become an NRI government).”

Most people who had assembled outside the RBI were under the impression that the March 31 deadline was for everyone, including NRIs. At the end of the day when the gates shut, several people picked up arguments with the security saying that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised them that they would be able to exchange old currency notes at the RBI till March 31. Lalita says that the only answer she got from the authorities was that she should go and ask Modi about it.

Rajesh, an auto driver from Delhi, who had come to exchange 15,000 rupees in old 500 currency notes said that he had been in the queue since seven in the morning but could not get them exchanged. “I feel cheated by the government. This money is not black money. I have earned it with my flesh and blood. There was no clarity over whether the March 31 deadline applied to NRIs only. The government should have specified that and it should now tell me what I am supposed to do with this money. It is a big amount for me and it has been reduced to dust. Ye sarkar gungi, behari sarkar hai. (This government is a deaf and dumb government).”

In its November 8 statement, the RBI had said, “Any person who is unable to exchange or deposit the specified banknotes in their bank accounts on or before 30 December 2016 shall be given an opportunity to do so at specified offices of the Reserve Bank or such other facility until a later date as may be specified by the Reserve Bank.” It had failed to specify then that the deadline applied to NRIs and Indians who were abroad during the 50 days of demonetization.

Even relatives of NRIs who had come to exchange old currency notes were turned away for lack of documents that they never knew were required. The rules stipulated that NRIs returning from abroad will have to physically show the junked Rs 500 and Rs 1000 rupee notes to customs officials at the airport and get a declaration form stamped before they can deposit the demonetized currency.

The deadline for NRIs to exchange old currency notes has been extended to June 30. However, it has left the common masses miffed as they feel that the government has ignored them.