Bengaluru crowd irate as RBI refuses to exchange old notes

Tension prevailed on the premises of Reserve Bank of India (RBI) office on Nrupatunga Road in Bengaluru on Monday as scores of people who had turned up to exchange the demonetised Rs500 and Rs1000 notes for the new tender were turned back by the bank officials.

The restive crowd, many of whom had come from far-off places, got involved in heated arguments with the RBI officials, prompting the latter to call police to the spot to bring the situation under control.

The people were obviously unaware that unlike the Bank of England on which it is presumably modelled, the Reserve Bank of India can refuse to honour its own currency. 'As safe as the Bank of England' is an old saying; 'As safe as the RBI' would seem to these people a cruel joke.

"I came all the way from Mandya to exchange the notes. We were told that we would be able to exchange the notes at the RBI office till 31 March. Now, they are saying the facility does not exist any longer," said Sidde Gowda, who had come to the RBI office with Rs50, 000 in demonetised notes.

The notification issued by the RBI on 8 November 2016 read, "Individuals who are unable to exchange, or deposit the old notes in their respective bank accounts, on or before 30 December 2016 can do so at the specified branches of the RBI until a later date, which will be specified by the central bank."

However, the RBI issued another notification on 31 December wherein the exchange facility was restricted to resident and non-resident Indians who could not exchange or deposit the demonetized notes on account of their absence in the intervening period between 10 November and 30 December. "This facility will be available only to those whose accounts comply with the 'Know Your Customer' norms," read the notification.

As part of the changed policy, the RBI has restricted the exchange facility to five of its branches - Mumbai, New Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata and Nagpur.

However, the people who were assembled in front of the Bengaluru RBI office were not willing to take a no. They continued to argue with the RBI authorities, but to no avail. Senior police officers said additional forces were sent to help policemen deployed near RBI office, after the crowd become unruly.

"People who had gathered were not aware of the change in the rules. A few of them had been waiting for more than two hours, and started to argue with the officials, resulting in the protest. We asked the RBI officials to put up a board outside informing the public about the change in policy," an RBI official told The Times of India.