- Banks in rural Punjab see people sleeping on pavements at night
- Banks run out of cash within hours of opening
- 71-year-old farmer waited 13 hours, then slept over to get Rs 10,000
It is 11 degrees. The night is thick with fog. The 71-year-old farmer covers himself with a shawl. But his home and bed are not a viable option. The winter is only one endurance test. The greater challenge is in getting cash.
"We have told the bank that they should disburse cash till 11 pm or else we are not going anywhere from here," said the senior citizen as his wait entered the 13th hour.
Sangrur is 150 kms from the capital of Chandigarh.
There are several banks in this area But each runs through its supply of cash within a few hours of opening every day. The ATMs, some of which are working, dispense Rs 2,000 per card. But most people say that's just not enough in a region where digital payments are still a foreign concept.
Ashok Kumar has been trying his luck for seven days. He wants to pull out the 2.5 lakhs sanctioned by the government for families holding weddings. His sister is to get married next week. "I have been coming to this branch since last Wednesday, but the manager says I cannot withdraw 2.5 lakhs despite the government's orders." Across the country, banks have said that they have yet to receive a formal notice on the withdrawal limit for weddings.
At another bank just a short walk away, the man in charge says he has no choice but to turn away desperate customers, many of whom are farmers who must urgently plant their winter crop. "Earlier, we used to get cash upto 1.5 to 2 crores during this season (when demand for cash is high among farmers), these days we are getting 6 lakhs only per day," said Sanjay Kumar, who runs the branch.
It is at 10 am the next morning, when the bank opens, that Mr Singh is granted Rs 10,000. The same amount is dispersed to all those who slept over at the branch. Most say they expect to repeat the ordeal soon.