Demonetisation: Why you should not complain about longer wait in ATM queues

Updated: Nov 25, 2016, 13:27 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon |

As citizens in Mumbai continue to reel under demonetisation, mid-day takes a deep dive into the lives of those on the other side and how they are carrying out the mandate

With just 82,000 ATMs recalibrated across the country, and 1.48 lakh more yet to be, it’s still a long wait in the queue for people. The crisis shows little sign of easing till the first week of December.

Staffers of Writer Safeguard collect the new currency to refill ATMs. Pics/Nimesh Dave
Staffers of Writer Safeguard collect the new currency to refill ATMs. Pics/Nimesh Dave

Out of the 2.3 lakh ATMs across India (public, private, cooperative as well as of foreign banks), nearly 1.45 lakh are outsourced to nine major cash management companies, which collectively employ over 50,000 employees. The remaining ATMs are either directly operated by the banks through smaller players, recalibration of which will be done by the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs).

Also Read: Government extends Rs 500 use till December 15, stops over-the-counter exchange

Firm’s Location In-charge Control room from where the movement of cash vans is monitored
Firm’s Location In-charge Control room from where the movement of cash vans is monitored

Behind the scenes
Speaking to mid-day, CEO of Writer Safeguard Private Limited, and founder secretary of Cash Logistics Association Suneel Aiyer said, “We are one of the nine cash management companies to which banks have outsourced 1.45 lakh ATMs; we are working round the clock to ensure that the cash arranged by the banks is fed into the machines at the earliest. Recalibration is a slow process... we are done with 82,000, and the number is expected to touch 1 lakh by Wednesday evening. All the ATMs across the country should be done by the third week of December.”

(Left) Maharashtra-Goa manager of Writer Safeguard Sachin Sawant; (right) CEO of Writer Safeguard Pvt Ltd, and founder secretary of Cash Logistics Association Suneel Aiyer
(Left) Maharashtra-Goa manager of Writer Safeguard Sachin Sawant; (right) CEO of Writer Safeguard Pvt Ltd, and founder secretary of Cash Logistics Association Suneel Aiyer

Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das was quoted on Wednesday as saying that it was only a matter of a few days that the recalibration would be completed. “Out of two lakh odd ATM machines, more than 82,000 recalibrated, it’s now only a matter of few days,” Das had tweeted.

mid-day spent a day with a cash management company and tried understanding the process — employees dealing with hundreds of crores of rupees, taking risks, and working to ensure there are no untoward incidents.

The first 36 hours
For nearly 36 hours after the demonetisation announcement and subsequent switching off of all ATM servers by banks, Aiyer said, “None of us had any clue what was happening... We were all waiting for directions, and other than making frantic calls to association members and senior bank officials, we were concerned about the currency already loaded in ATMs and that kept in the vaults of each cash management company.”

A high-level meeting was called the next day at 3 pm at RBI’s Fort office, where apart from the bank’s deputy governor, S Gandhi, who chaired the meeting, members of the association, OEMs, and others gathered to discuss the next line of action. It was decided that all the cash already in ATMs and vaults be removed and deposited with the respective banks.

Read Story: Ulhasnagar man forced to deposit fancy notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1000

Accordingly, a task force was formed to supervise the work and a command centre under the National Payment Corporation of India was set up at its Vikrholi office.

The first such task
None of the nine cash management companies had even taken up such a task before.

Aiyer said, “We have cash dispensing machines, where one can’t deposit money. Each ATM has four cassettes in which 2,200 notes can be fixed. For instance, usually, ATMs are filled with Rs 1,000, Rs 500 and Rs 100 notes, of which number of Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 is 2,200, while Rs 100 notes may go up to 4,400, which means the total value is Rs 37 lakh. However, the number can go up to Rs 88 lakh, if all cassettes are loaded with Rs 1,000 notes. Over Rs 916 crore were stored in 60-odd vaults of Writer Safeguard across India, while Rs 81 crore was removed from ATMs it operated.”

“While it takes 15 minutes to put cash in an ATM, it was taking almost 45 minutes to an hour to remove it, the reason being that the staff had to do manual counting of the currency left in the machine and a make record of the same,” said Rajesh R, head, ATM Business, at Writer Safeguard.

Manual recalibration
After emptying of ATMs, the next task was to collect the new notes, a majority the new Rs 2,000 ones.

Rajesh R said, “We have no role in procurement of cash from the RBI; the bank gets the cash and our team collects it from the bank’s designated collection centre.”

“Two ATM operators and a representative from OEM have to do the process together — the operators put the passwords and representative recalibrates the cassettes to fit the new notes. Only after this can currency be put. We are getting very few notes of Rs 2,000 and Rs 100; they are all gone within half an hour of loading,” said Maharashtra-Goa manager of Writer Safeguard Sachin Sawant.

Truckloads of cash
Kalyan resident Bharat Vandare (30) and Diva resident Amit Utekar (28), ATM operators, have been carrying crores daily in and out of ATMs and banks.

“I have never seen this much cash in my life, but I also understand that I am responsible for any mismatch of currency in the ATM and in the record. I had made multiple trips to the same ATM for removing cash and then refilling the machine,” said Vandare.

Utekar said, “I had a sensitive area to cover (Bhiwandi), and especially at night... But there was no fear as we had armed guards with us.”

Ironically, the staff had to stand in queues to get change after their day’s work involving notes and ATMs.

Vandare said, “I don’t have the privilege of exchanging old notes with new, all the money is accounted for and any manipulation will cost me my job.”

On location
Ravindra Saragade (31) and Harun Shaikh (26), both location officers, have been staying in their office since the announcement. Besides ensuring that the cash was collected and put in the firm vault, they were expected to do the mobilisation of cash, help in separating torn currency, coordinate for providing the required logistical support for delivery of cash to ATMs as per the route, and monitor the movement of cash vans through GPS.

“We were using our office software to identify the working condition of our ATMs, and accordingly, mobilise the technical support team to resolve the issues. It was a tough task...” said Saragade.

Rs 100+ crore cost to firms
Aiyer said, “Our overhead expenses have shot up, as we had to take additional insurance covers for handling of cash and making logistical arrangements for covering all the ATMs. Also, the staff working round the clock had to be paid overtime and other allowances; expenses were incurred for arranging additional cash vans, fuel, etc.”

“While the RBI and banks have appreciated our efforts, we will be approaching the RBI with a plea that banks reimburse our overhead costs,” he added.

2.3 lakh
Number of ATMs across India

1.48 lakh
Number of ATMs yet to be recalibrated

No. of ATMs across India operated by Writer Safeguard

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