On Friday afternoon, Sunny walked quickly past the crowd inside the State Bank of India branch in Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk, a deposit slip and two Rs 500 notes in hand. The 29-year-old managed to find his way to the deposit counter and queued up, the third person in the short line.

“I was praying all the while that the counter had not closed,” said a relieved Sunny, who works as a cleaner at the power supply office in Chandni Chowk. He nervously checked his deposit slip, filled up with the help of a stranger at the bank. “I could not exchange or deposit these notes so far because the queues were long and I could not afford a day off to visit the bank,” he explained. “So I had to wait for things to ease down and I waited till December 30.”

Friday, the last day to deposit the demonetised Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes in banks, saw quite a few residents of Delhi rush to deposit old notes still in their possession 50 days after they ceased to be legal tender. The deposit queues at various bank branches across the city that Scroll.in visited were not as long as they were just weeks ago, and not half as chaotic as the lines of people waiting to make withdrawals. But those standing in line expressed dismay at the lack of significant improvement in the situation even after such a long time.

Sunny managed to deposit two Rs 500 notes at the State Bank of India branch in Chandni Chowk on Friday. Photo credit: Abhishek Dey

Hours before deadline

Standing next to Sunny in the queue was 46-year-old Sarita Verma, who lives with her family in an Old Delhi colony and gives private tuitions to school children in her locality. She had Rs 3,000 to deposit – all in Rs 500 notes.

“I had no option but to accept these old notes from the parents of a student who could not pay the fees in new currency because of the ongoing cash crisis,” she said. “I am glad that the lines for depositing cash are not long but what hurts is that not much has changed in 50 days. We had to cut down on daily expenses on commodities like milk and fruits by nearly 60% and we still have not been able to get back to normal.”

At a State Bank of India branch in South Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar, Praveen Tiwari managed to deposit two Rs 1,000 notes in his bank account minutes before the lunch hour break. “My daughter, who studies in Kota [in Rajasthan], could not exchange or deposit these notes,” the 53-year-old explained. “She handed these over to me when she came home for the winter break this week.” Tiwari, who teaches at a government school, refused to comment on whether the situation had improved in the past 50 days.

School teacher Praveen Tiwari managed to deposit two Rs 1,000 notes at the State Bank of India branch in Lajpat Nagar. Photo credit: Abhishek Dey

Fourth in queue at the same counter stood a 32-year-old man, holding three Rs 500 notes to be deposited in the personal bank account of his employer, who manages the South Delhi office of a company that deals in earth movers. The employee, who did not want to be identified, makes bank deposits and withdrawals on behalf of the office and his senior colleagues. “Even after 50 days, businessmen have to do transactions in old notes,” he said. “The office managers are careful about what they deposit in the official bank accounts and skilfully balance what they consider excess in the personal accounts. But it is hard to ascertain what will happen now – as we have reached the deadline and there is not enough new currency in the system with which an adequate working capital can be maintained.”

No luck on Day 50

The short queues, however, held no cheer for Ram Bhajan, a scientist with an industrial research foundation in Delhi. The 38-year-old had to run pillar to post to deposit a Rs 1,000 note after his bank branch in Delhi University’s North Campus refused to accept it. He was compelled to stand in a long queue outside the Reserve Bank of India late in the afternoon.

“I had Rs 19,000 in old notes, which I had deposited in my bank account on November 29,” he said. “This particular note was returned by the cashier, claiming it was damaged. I still do not believe it came from my bundle.”

He added that officials at his bank had earlier assured him that they would accept the note later, when the crowd eased. But on Friday, they refused to take it and instead advised him to rush to the Reserve Bank to get it exchanged. “I took casual leave for this today,” said an exasperated Bhajan. “But I failed to get it exchanged as the Reserve Bank counter, too, had closed.”