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Note ban: In rude shock for many NRIs, resident Indians, new window shut


Note ban: In rude shock for many NRIs

Several Indian residents who flew out of the country on November 10, just after the note ban announcement in the evening of November 8, are in for a rude shock as they are being turned away by the Reserve Bank of India. The reason is that they were in the country for a day after demonetisation, which came into effect after midnight, November 8-9. Although banks and ATMs were shut on November 9, the central bank has rejected that as a valid argument.

With the March 31 deadline to exchange old notes for Indians who were abroad during the note ban period approaching, the RBI offices are teeming with people, with many queueing up from as early as 4 am in the morning. The entry is allowed at 10 am and the gates close by 3 pm, with more than 500 people failing to gain access daily.

“We cannot change rules even by a millimetre,” said an RBI official, when apprised of the challenges. However, the RBI did not respond to a query sent by Business Standard on email as to why even those who were in the country only on November 9 were not being entertained.

Deepak Singh, an executive with an insurance company, has all documents in place — a passport with entry and exit stamp, a copy of the Aadhaar card, a copy of statements of all Indian bank accounts for November-December 2016, a copy of the PAN card and Annex 1 form. But he was not allowed to exchange old notes for new ones because his flight for the three-month project in Canada was on November 10.

“It is unfair to include November 9 in the conditions as it was announced by the Prime Minister that all banks and ATMs will remain shut that day. No one in the RBI seems to be listening. I returned in February and this is the third time I am standing in a queue,” said Singh.

Those who stayed for a week after demonetisation say they were deterred from exchanging old notes for new ones by massive crowds outside banks during the initial phase and theirs must be considered a valid case.

Another RBI official Business Standard spoke to said, “They may have genuine reasons and problems but the message from the top (RBI management) is a strict application of rules.”

The FAQs on the RBI website state that the exchange or deposit of old notes will be permissible for “Resident Indian citizens who were abroad during November 9, 2016 to December 30, 2016”. Non-Resident Indians have time till June 30 to exchange old notes but their value must not exceed Rs 25,000.

As the queues get longer, the announcement at timely intervals by the central bank offices asks those “who were in the country even for a single day between November 9 and December 30 to leave the queue as they are not eligible for the exchange”.

NRIs are not having an easy time, either. With the exchange procedure turning into a disappointment, many who have travelled to Delhi from states far and near — Punjab, UP, Haryana, and Rajasthan — are seen squatting outside the RBI office even after the gates close at 3pm. Most are NRIs who work as labourers in West Asian countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Another section of NRIs seen outside the RBI office are from Punjab and work in Canada.

Most of them do not have the customs declaration certificate, a ''mandatory'' document. “I returned to India from Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) after two years on January 31 to get old notes exchanged. It is only after reaching the RBI office that I was told that I do not have a customs certificate. Is the immigration stamp not enough? This is harassment,” Salim Ahmed said.

Satya Pal, who works in Dubai as a peon, has the same story to tell. Notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 are being accepted only at five RBI offices: Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Nagpur.

The stringent screening procedure, which could take up to two hours, is also responsible for depositors not being able to meet the eligibility criteria.

Illegal channels coming up is a necessary concomitant of the cumbersome exchange mechanism. For instance, an exchange racket is in full swing just outside the RBI building in the capital under the watchful eyes of CRPF troopers and Delhi Police, offering people an instant exchange of old currency at a discount 50-90 per cent. Business Standard met a broker who offered a quick exchange of money at an 80 per cent discount.

Although the window for exchange in banks closed on December 30 for those who were in the country, there are many who missed the opportunity. The RBI is their last chance to exchange old notes.

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