‘It’s the common man who suffers the most’

People stand in the shade while waiting to enter the SBI office on Dr Ambedkar Road

On a Thursday morning, several Puneites gathered to form what looks like a never-ending queue outside State Bank of India on Dr Ambedkar Road. A bank peon seems much hassled as he circulates the exchange forms and explains the details to each person because the forms are only in English. A few people claimed that they had to get their forms filled by others due to the absence of forms in Hindi and Marathi. Standing under the scorching heat, many people are huddling close to gather some shade. Arun Gamare has been waiting patiently in the line since an hour. He speaks about the difficulty he has faced from the decision to demonetise 500 and 1000 rupee notes, “Just two days back I took out more one lakh rupees from the bank because my daughter is pregnant. In such situations, you do need a lot of cash in case an emergency arises. Now, I have to get all of that money exchanged. I fully support this decision by the government but it is causing us too much inconvenience.”

Gamare isn’t the only one facing a problem, several others standing in the queue share a similar angst. “I work in construction and the entire business has come to a halt because of this. I cannot purchase materials or pay my labour. Nobody is accepting the old notes and new notes haven’t been circulated yet,” expresses Mulla Shabir.

Standing under the blazing winter sun for hours is probably a small price to pay to fight corruption. We saw a number of senior citizens looking out for chairs to rest their feet, wondering when they will get their chance. Prakash Pardesi, a 60-year-old, expresses his concern, “I have been standing for so long in the line. However everyone sees this move, for me the people with black money will find ways to keep it with them and eventually it’s the middle class suffering again. The bank has only one extra counter and see the queue extending till the road.” Another 65-year-old woman, claims that due to her family members being busy at work and school she has to stand in line.

Amidst the rush and frenzy, we spoke to one of the workers at Bank of India in Wanowrie. “Yes, we have started one extra counter, so there are three in total. Also, there are just one or two people for cash withdrawal and everyone else has come to deposit money,” adds Shivaji.

A heavy crowd gathers outside Bank of India, Wanowrie
A heavy crowd gathers outside Bank of India, Wanowrie

Waiting for his turn, we spotted a retired banker who was also helping those who had certain queries regarding the new move. The retired banker (name withheld on request) says, “This is for the betterment of the country. But, the workers at the bank will be under tremendous stress. They are dealing with money here, they need to be extremely careful. This has been inflicted on them, it’s not their responsibility. But, people should be rest assured that they will be taken care of.”

While some are facing the heat, students like Akash Kore, whose college is not accepting hard cash and has a deadline till November 18, there are a few who don’t mind. Khozem Jawadwala explains, “I came back from Mumbai yesterday and had to take a public bus from the station to save my change. Now I am standing in the queue here at the bank, but it’s a good step and this much trouble is negligible for me.”

Laughing at the state of affairs while securing his place in the queue, Shivajirao Yadav feels that it is an age old story to see the middle class suffer because of such decisions, “Madam, all of us standing in this line have only white money! None of us have any black money. We will laugh and we will bear this because it is the government decision!”

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