New Delhi: While millions are struggling to deposit or exchange the demonetised currency and withdraw money from banks, it is the staff of nationalised and private banks who are facing the brunt of the government move to spike the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes.
In bank branches across the country, officers and staff, many of them women, are working extra hours, at times extending beyond midnight, and managing frayed tempers as they try to ensure that the most number of people queuing up are facilitated -- even as the flow of the new currency notes from their head offices has been inadequate.
"People have to understand that we came to know of the demonetisation like everyone else. The banks were hardly prepared to cater to the huge demand for exchange of notes, currency deposits and withdrawals," the Cluster Head of a leading private bank in Chandigarh told IANS even as he requested agitated people to show patience.
"There is a lot of logistics involved in this exercise. Banking staff have worked through the weekend holiday. As we are catering to the rush of people throughout the day, the entries are made only after normal banking hours end. At times, the entries and matching of accounts goes on beyond midnight. It is not easy but the staff are doing a great job despite the pressure from all sides," he pointed out.
In the country`s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, bank staff are a harried lot. Kavya, an official with a private bank in Lucknow, told IANS: "It has been a tough week for me and my family. I had to skip a visit to Varanasi to be with my parents." She is not the only one.
More than a week after the demonetisation was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 8, bankers are putting in long hours, without even their weekly holidays.
A senior official with Axis Bank in Lucknow is cut up with the long working hours. "At times, it is scary to deal with the people. Normal banking has gone for a toss," he pointed out.
While the manpower at banks is ready to deliver, the technology and other logistics fail at times, putting the bankers in a nightmare situation vis-a-vis the public.
"At times the Internet and servers are down due to the heavy load. ATMs run out of cash very fast as lower denomination notes of Rs 100 are being loaded. Though there is enough currency available, it is a logistical nightmare to get it delivered to all branches several times a day," said bank officer Charanjit Singh in Jalandhar city in Punjab.
"I have never seen such a situation in my entire service of over two decades," an officer of the country`s biggest public sector bank, State Bank of India, told IANS in Thiruvananthapuram.
"This was something out of the blue and I don`t think my colleagues at the branch and I have ever come under such pressure," said the officer who did not wish to be identified.
Bank officials also fear that with an unusally large amount of cash coming in every day, if the entries do not match, they will be in trouble later when the immediate crisis is behind them.
Be it Chandigarh or Chennai, or Maharashtra or Manipur, the problems and plight of the bank staff is the same.
"We are experiencing several inconveniences. We leave office around 7 p.m. after tallying the accounts," said a Chennai-based employee of State Bank of Mysore. Another staffer chipped in: "We don`t know if there will be a weekly off this Sunday. We worked last Sunday as well."
Bank officers say it is not only the public dealing which is testing them -- it is also the lack of information about the ever-changing rules for disbursal and clear instructions from the top.
"Instructions from the government and seniors come by the hour and have to be implemented. At times there is confusion on what is allowed and how much. Seeking clarification takes time. We also have pressure from our own families, friends and acquaintances to get money withdrawn or deposited. It will take time for things to settle down," Sunil Sharma, a bank officer with a private bank in Gurgaon, pointed out.
Thousands of bankers across Karnataka have been working 12-14 hours daily since the demonetisation.
"Though Kanaka Jayanthi was a holiday, the state government cancelled it and told us to work full day to help the public," state-run Karnataka Bank branch manager Sadananda Kumar told IANS in Bengaluru.
"Working daily non-stop under pressure has taken a toll of our health, especially of women employees, as they have been reporting to office at 9 a.m. and slogging without a break till 9-10 p.m.," said Kumar.
In the absence of the new Rs 500 notes, which the Reserve Bank of India has not supplied to any bank in Bengaluru, customers have been squabbling for any lower notes, especially Rs 100 and Rs 50.
With the queues long and tempers running high, bankers have been at the receiving end of tired and impatient customers.
"The treasury chest has been giving only Rs 2,000 notes and few bundles of Rs 100 and Rs 50 notes. With not many depositing lower currency notes and reluctant to take the Rs 2,000 notes, our tellers are stressed out due to friction and heated exchanges with the customers," said one officer.