Nov 23

No tolls to decrease the toll

Since the demonetization of the 500 and 1000 rupee note, cash is scarce. The ATMs here usually say “24 Hours ATM”. They need to clarify that as most are closed 24 hours, not open.

You can tell if an ATM has money because it has a long line. No line means no cash. If a machine has cash, it would be only 100 rupee bills (worth $1.50), as the machines haven’t been adjusted to handle the new 500 and 2000 notes, which are smaller than the old 500 and 1000 notes. You are also limited to withdrawing only 2000 rupees ($30) per day, per card.

This cash crunch has taken a toll on most Indians, who conduct most transactions in cash. Because no one has any cash, the toll roads have stopped collecting any tolls.

A toll plaza (back when it was collecting tolls)

A toll plaza (back when it was collecting tolls)

Initially it was only until Nov. 20 that tolls would not be collected, but that has extended until tomorrow, Nov 24th, as the situation has not improved.

It has been nice being able to whiz through the toll plazas without having to wait in line and pay. It remains to be seen if the tolls will actually resume tomorrow or not. Tomorrow is also supposed to mark the raising of bank counter cash and ATM withdrawal limits. I don’t see how the limit can be raised as most people can’t even get to an ATM.

Nov 25 UPDATE: The tolls have been suspended through Dec. 2. From midnight on they will be collecting tolls and you will be able to pay with the old 500 notes and get change (but not the old 1000 notes).  Also India has suspended the ability to exchange notes at banks (so no more inking of fingers, see below), but one can still deposits old notes through Dec 30.

The paper last week had some good cartoons on the situation I thought I would share:


Those are all bank name acronyms


The government started requiring the anyone exchanging money have their finger marked with permanent ink (like they do when you vote). This is to limit each person to one exchange of up to 4000 rupees ($60) and prevent someone from coming multiple times to slowly exchange a large hoard of cash. The thief prevented anyone in the family from exchanging any of their money.

The government started requiring that anyone exchanging money have their finger marked with permanent ink (like they do here when you vote so you cannot vote more than once). This  move is to limit each person to one exchange of up to 4000 rupees ($60) and prevent someone from slowly exchanging a large hoard of cash by going to multiple banks multiple times. By marking the families finger, the thief prevented anyone in the family from exchanging any of their money.

The above is a rather light-heard look at this situation, but the reality is that the demonetization has taken a heavy toll on many people here. For example, I just read an article (which led me to add this postscript) about an 18 year old who committed suicide yesterday because he could not get enough money to pay for his school exams.  That same article noted that over 50 people have lost their lives so far (not all from suicide). Please pray for the people in India that God would preserve them during this difficult time and bring them to the knowledge of Jesus their Savior who gives us hope for the future and for eternal life.

Nov 18

“Q” Please

I just stood in line for an ATM. This is the first time I have tried to get money since the government demonitized the 500 ($7.50) and 1000 ($15) notes, rendering all the cash I had on hand unusable.

My ever-vigilent driver and helper, Kumar, saw that the State Bank of India ATM next to the hotel where we were staying had a short queue (line for us Americans) of about 20 people. The sign on the door said, “‘Q’ Please”. He wanted to stand in line for me and have come in 10-15 minutes and take his place. I wasn’t doing anything sitting in my hotel room, so I queued up instead and waited about 20 minutes to get 4000 rupees (about $60), while he went to check on the ICICI bank ATM nearby (which was out of money).

Each withdrawl has a limit of 2000 rupees, but I have two ATM cards (actually three but the one would not work) so I could make two withdrawls. It feels good to have $60 that I can use now. I was down to about $8 of usable cash, which was somewhat of a worry since I am on a 4-day trip to visit districts and do training.

Most hotels and nicer restaurants take credit cards, so that has allowed us to travel thus far. The problem is not everyplace that takes credit cards takes foreign credit cards, so I have been somewhat reluctant to venture out as I don’t have cash to back up a declined card.

The current hotel even allowed us to pay with the old bills, which they probably are not supposed to, but perhaps they prefered that over the credit card fees. Since the old bills can be deposited up until Dec. 30, some places are still accepting them. We stopped at one restaurant that allowed us to pay with them. We also saw an electronics store boldly advertising that they will accept the old notes. Evidently they are hoping to capitialize on the long lines at the banks and ATMs and hope people will spend the “worthless” bills instead waiting to deposit them: “Come several days in a row to stand hours in line in hopes the bank won’t run out of money or buy a new TV?”

The man I was standing behind in the queue was surpisingly in favor of the move to suddenly with draw the old notes, despite the inconveniences it has caused. I wonder what the attitude is of the majority of Indians. The news reports on how hard this move has hit the poor who do not have credit cards or even bank accounts.

The winter session of the legislature has begin with intense discussion over the demonitization and the hardships it is causing. Time will tell how soon things will return to normal and if the people will give the prime minister the 50 days he has asked for.

Nov 13

No money? No problem!

This past week in a surprise move on the evening of Tuesday, Nov 8, the Indian government announced that the 500 and 1000 rupee notes (worth about $7.50 and $15, respectively) would no longer legal tender after midnight that night. These were the two highest notes in Indian currency. This move rendered at least 80% of the money in circulation no longer valid.

The public has until Dec. 30 to deposit the old notes into bank accounts. One can also exchange them (up to a max of 4000 per day – about $60) for the new 500 and 2000 rupee bills. The purpose of this action was render counterfeit 500 and 1000 notes worthless overnight and force those who have undeclared (i.e. untaxed) stockpiles of cash to deposit them and be taxed on them.

part of the long line at a local ATM

part of the long line at a local ATM

Indian society runs mainly on cash. This demonetization has resulted in long lines at banks and ATMs, as people try to get in to deposit and exchange money or get money from ATMs. In a nation of almost 1.3 billion, there are only about 200,000 ATMs, at least half of which are still not working, because they have not been reprogrammed to dispense the new 2000 rupee notes or with the 20002500*/day limit (about $38). The ATMs that are working quickly run out of cash. This has left most people without any usable money which means they cannot buy food or even bus tickets. This has resulted in anger, scuffles, and even a couple of deaths. You can read about the situation herehere, and this one has some good pictures.

This has created problems here for our brothers and sisters as well. For example, pastors are left with no money to buy transportation so they have been unable to come to monthly training meetings, or even food from the local market.

Jesus tells us not to worry about what we will eat or drink because our heavenly Father knows that we need these things and will provide for us (Matthew 6:23-32). Jesus tells us:

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33 ESV)

We often chase after the things of this world, as that is our day-to-day life. Putting Jesus’ words into practice is difficult when one’s cupboard and pocketbook is bare, but remember God has provided something far more important than earthly food: He has given us free forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with Him through Jesus’ death and resurrection. He gives us free access to His kingdom by giving us His perfect righteousness in the place of our sinfulness.

We are poor before God. We have nothing with which to buy the forgiveness of our sins. We have nothing to offer God. But Jesus has taken care of that!

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV)

We are now rich toward God with the perfect obedience and righteousness of Jesus that is credited (deposited) in our account. Because God has given us His own Son, we can be confident He will give us everything else we need in this life:

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32 ESV)

So God calls us to believe and receive this salvation He has given us in Jesus for free:

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. (Isaiah 55:1-3 ESV)

* On Nov. 14 the ATM withdrawal limit was raised from 2000 to 2500 rupees per day.