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21 Dec 2016

Lesson money cannot buy - How a bank taught me the power of 'may be'

Debraj Mitra, TT, 20 December 2016:  The credit in such cases (old notes in excess of Rs 5,000) shall be afforded only after questioning tenderer, on record, in the presence of at least two officials of the bank, as to why this could not be deposited earlier and receiving a satisfactory explanation. RBI, December 19
A day later on Tuesday, a Calcuttan went to a bank to deposit the cash his family had kept aside for medical emergencies. The following is his account:
The bundle of cash, originally a little over Rs 26,000 in the old 500-rupee notes, was meant for medical emergencies. After November 8, I spent some of it to buy medicines for my mother who is recovering from a fractured left leg. The balance was Rs 23,500. Since the deposit deadline announced by the Centre was December 30, I was in no hurry.
Even when I read about Monday's RBI announcement that a deposit above Rs 5,000 would be allowed only once before the deadline and that too after being questioned, I was surprised but not bothered.
One, our medicine money was not such a huge amount to be labelled disproportionate to known sources of income. Two, the nationalised bank is next door and I am familiar with almost all the officials. Three, my mother is a pensioner of the same bank.
I stepped into the bank a little after noon. Over the next three-and-a-half hours, my convictions were shredded like invalid notes.
There was no queue outside the bank but it was packed inside. An employee on the ground floor told me to go to the cash officer's counter on the first floor.
I told the officer I had gone there to deposit Rs 23,500. I got to know that I had to submit an application saying I wanted to deposit old notes and why I could not deposit them earlier. My application had to be cleared by the branch head and the operations manager.
I returned home, got hold of a blank paper and started writing the letter. I wrote about my mother's age. I said I left home early and returned late in the night. I said the mad rush in the first phase had initially prevented me from visiting the bank. What I could not write was that I had taken the government seriously and banked on the December 30 deadline.
I went to the bank again. The branch head first said my handwriting was illegible - the pronouncement brought back not-so-fond memories from school - and asked me to write on a bigger sheet. I pleaded with her to accept the application. The branch head wrote "may be allowed" on the application and asked me to go to the operations manager.
Around 15 people were in the queue. After waiting for close to 40 minutes, the manager saw the application, checked the KYC (know your customer) documents and wrote "allowed" on the paying slip and asked me to go the cash officer.
Alas! It was past 2pm and the officer had gone for lunch. I spent the next 30 minutes watching teasers on YouTube.
Back at his desk, the cash officer smiled at me. But he frowned after glancing at the application. He told me the words "may be allowed" were vague and had a "negative connotation".
"Please go to the manager and ask her to write 'allowed'," said the officer. He told another officer beside him how everyone was trying to avoid accountability.
I went back to the manager. She asked me what was wrong with "may be allowed". I didn't know. Unhappily, she scratched out the words "may be". I went back to the cash officer.
I was told there was a register, where the cash officer would note down my details and the reason for the deposit. The manager and the operations manager will have to sign on the register. This time, a staffer helped me.
3.30pm: I left the bank with a sense of accomplishment and the parting words of the cash officer ringing in my ears: "You are the only person who could deposit old notes of more than Rs 5,000 at my counter today."

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