Hundreds of depositors of the crisis-hit Sri Guru Raghavendra Bank in Bengaluru, most of them senior citizens, queued up amid the coronavirus pandemic to withdraw whatever they could after the Reserve Bank of India recently revised the withdrawal limit to Rs 1 lakh, including the earlier Rs 35,000.
The cooperative bank is under investigation for financial irregularities and a set of restrictions were imposed early January for six months or until further review.
The bank has many senior citizen depositors whose majority life savings are in the bank. They depend on the monthly interest earned to meet their expenses.
"Money issues are definitely worse than COVID-19. If we get coronavirus, we will suffer and survive. But what do we do about this financial uncertainty? I have to ask someone to buy me a cup of coffee even though I have lakhs here," an emotional retired school headmaster, MN Rao, told NDTV.
While most depositors were seen wearing face masks, physical distancing was not to be seen.
"I am 80 years old. The government advises people above 65 years of age to stay at home as they vulnerable, but I have no choice. I know it is a risk to come out, but I need the money. If I run out of money who will take care of me?" said an elderly woman outside the bank headquarters in south Bengaluru.
Though the depositors have an option to transfer money to another bank through the National Electronic Funds Transfer system, many do not have another bank account and prefer to get their cash in hand. This meant long queues.
"I have waited for three hours, but the queue in front of me is still quite long," another depositor said.
"Most of us are senior citizens; they should have had more counters. It is dangerous because of COVID-19," Padmaja Rao, who retired from a media house, told NDTV, adding that he was finding it difficult to make his ends meet as he hasn't received any interest since January.
To iron out financial issues in a depositor-centric way, the government has appointed Additional Registrar AC Diwakar as the beleaguered bank's administrator.
"We are seeing to it that if someone needs money for illnesses or a chronic disease, they are able to get Rs 5 lakh from their deposit," he said, adding that a re-audit is being done for the years 2014 to 2019 and, so far, Rs 22 crore has been recovered.
Mr Diwakar said he is hopeful that all account holders can get their money back. "Some 54 per cent depositors, about 24,000 people, have Rs 1 lakh or less in their accounts. If they are able to withdraw this money, all their dues would be cleared," he said.