Three Indians, including one person in Mumbai city and two others in the southern state of Kerala, have died waiting in long queues outside banks, after the Indian government unveiled a surprise policy decision to curb black money.
On Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise announcement, telling millions of Indians that the currency notes for ₹500 and ₹1,000–a whopping 86% of all bank notes in circulation–would become “illegal tender” in four hours. It sent people scrambling to the ATMs across the country, where they waited in long queues only to find that the cash dispensing machines wouldn’t necessarily give smaller currency bills like ₹100. There were long lines reported at petrol pumps that night, where people desperately spent their cash before Cinderella hour.
The next day, all national banks remained shut as the massive exercise of replacing the old notes with new ones began, leaving several without any means to obtain cash or to spend their now-illegal tenders. Unless you had debit or credit cards that could be used for your basic needs, or had smaller bills that were still legal, you were trapped. This meant that millions, especially poorer citizens of India, were left without options. These included daily wage labourers, small businessmen, low-income patients at hospitals
Even as top officials across the country, as well as those at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), applauded PM Modi on his “surgical strike” on black money, and the chief of the Reserve Bank of India assured Indians that they wouldn’t face any “disruption”because of the demonetisation–the next few days have been enormously taxing for the common Indian
Markets plunged on Wednesday, and Friday registered the biggest single day fall in nine months. On Thursday, with ATMs still closed, banks saw unmanageable crowds of people waiting to exchange their outdated bills for new ones. The situation was not much better on Friday, with several ATMs reported to be either closed, or out of cash. Those that were functional had huge lines, with people frequently breaking into fights and even damaging public property. Many complained of waiting for hours on queue to withdraw cash.
It was on one such long queue in Mumbai that 73-year-old Vishwanath Vartak collapsed and died on Friday. He is believed to have suffered from a heart attack, and a postmortem report is awaited.
Around the same time, 75-year-old Karthikeyan was filling out forms in a bank in Kerala to deposit over ₹5 lakh worth of scrapped high denomination notes, when he collapsed and died. Not far away, a 48-year-old man identified as Unni fell to his death as he was filling forms to deposit ₹5.5 lakh he had borrowed from his provident fund account earlier. He was on the second floor of the bank after having stood on the queue for some time. Initial reports suggest it was an accident, and a case of unnatural death has been registered