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15 Dec 2016

Storm makes cash king

G.C. Shekhar, TT, Chennai, Dec. 14: Cyclone Vardah has unplugged the cashless drive in Chennai, tripping most modes of digital payment for over two days and making cash king again in the city. 

The cyclone not only disrupted power supply with uprooted trees flattening several transformers but also crippled mobile phone services by sending many towers crashing from rooftops. Chennai and its two neighbouring districts went virtually powerless the whole of Monday and for several hours on Tuesday.#Even in the few areas where the mobile networks were functioning, the towers died a gradual death as their battery backup drained off. ATMs downed their shutters, crippled by power outage and lack of connectivity.

"We had seen a quantum jump in payments by cards and e-wallets during the past fortnight but since Monday, none of these worked. The card-swiping machine had no connectivity and soon its battery died. With mobile networks down, even e-wallets could not be used. So, I simply asked my customers to come with cash," said M. Ramiah, a grocer in Abhiramapuram in south Chennai.

Even chain stores that had power backup could not accept cards after Monday afternoon as the mobile lines flattened out. The fallen trees had crippled the landline connections, too, making it impossible to connect the swipe machines to landlines as a back-up. #"Modi proposes, God disposes," joked an elderly customer at the Nilgiris department store as he pocketed his cards and dug out some cash from his wallet.

The worst hit were hungry customers who descended on restaurants as cooking at home became difficult with no power, no servant and no water. Unable to honour digital payments of any kind, the restaurants put out "Only Cash" boards.

"There is nothing we could do as the card machines stopped working," explained the manager at Sangeetha Restaurant at RA Puram. Even a few restaurants where cards were accepted, only the odd machine would work, resulting in long queues at the counter.

With digital payment avenues shutting down, customers lined up in front of banks today morning to withdraw cash leading to further confusion and anger as some branches said they could give only Rs 2,400 per person.

"The weekly limit might be 24,000 but we had to cut down as more customers came asking for cash today than during the last week. The cyclone has made them realise the importance of cash during emergencies," said the manager of a bank branch at Indira Nagar.

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