Ten days on, the banking sector is yet to recover from the government’s demonetisation move. There are two main reasons for this. One, there is just not enough new notes being supplied by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), even after running its printing presses over time. And the second, there are not enough technicians to recaliberate automated teller machines in the countries.
Only once the ATMs are recalibrated and enough Rs 500 notes are printed, the chaos will be under control, say bankers.
Even as top bankers are assuring public that the situation will normalise in a week, bankers behind the counters think otherwsie.
The new 500 notes have not been released in rural areas. Most of the branches just 20-30 kilometers from metros have not seen the new 500 rupee note as the currency chests are currently available only in cities. Even in metros, the stockpile of the new notes is thin.
A public sector bank branch manager in the outskirt of Kolkata told Business Standard that the currency chests are now dispensing soiled, old Rs 100 notes. Several customers withdrawing money from banks confirmed this. Customers who have withdrawn Rs 100 notes are not releasing them for daily transactions. Hoarding has ensured that the central bank is being forced to release old scrapped notes to the general public again.
The lack of technicians is the bigger problem.
At the end of August 2016, scheduled commercial banks had 2,02,801 ATMs (both onsite and offsite). There are also some more white level ATMs but they are shut as banks don’t have enough cash to feed even their own ATMs.
All the ATMs in the country primarily belongs to three vendors who in turn employ 2000-3000 engineers However, these egineers are not on the companies’ books but are outsourced. What’s worse is that one set of engineer only works on a particular ATM. Of these engineers, about one third are responsible for the hardware, while the remaining look into the software side.
Engineers are not tasked with the responsibility of filling up cash in ATM as not much technical knowledge is needed for the job. Cash management companies can take care of this operation through their field level employees.
Given that engineers of the ATM vendors mainly reside in metros, it takes them a couple of hours to travel to an ATM in rural or semi-urban area if it breaks down. If an ATM breaks down in a semi-urban area, it takes up to three days to link it back up.
“To change the software code in ATMs, and it link it up with the bank server, it takes at least two hours”, said an engineer who, until a year back, used to maintain ATMs. Extra time is required to change the hardware.
In the current scenario, the engineers have to do both. which it why it easily three to four hours for an ATM to be up and running to dispense new notes. Moreover, internal shapes of the cassettes have to changed to accommodate the shorter currency notes. Unless a new set of cassettes are introduced, the fix could be ad hoc, said people who handle ATMs.
Therefore, any set of two engineers (hardware and software) can barely calibrate three to four ATMs in a day. To make more than 2 lakh ATMs up and running, it would take months, said the engineer. ATM vendors are now frantically calling back all old employees who have moved on to greener pastures. In some cases, the vendors are negotiating hard with the new employers to release their experts for the ATM recalibration work.
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