NRIs, OCIs with demonetized currency caught in bureaucratic hurdles

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By J.V. Lakshmana Rao

Chicago/Hyderabad:  Most of the Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) and Oversees Citizens of India (OCIs),  who live abroad and  dream for an India that measures up to the developed countries, have extended their support to the demonetization of 500-rupee and 1000-rupee notes and welcomed  the decision of the government of India  that NRIs can redeem their old notes with new ones at  branches of Reserve Bank of India till March 31/June 30. The maximum limit for reedumption per an NRI and OCI at Rs. 25,000 is fair enough because they carry out of the country with them only a few thousands of rupees left with them when they leave India.

But the implementing mechanism headed by bureaucrats has created hurdles which are almost near impossible for the NRIs/OCIs to redeem the  money by subjecting them to the torturous procedure. As of now the NRIs and OCIs  are at crossroads to know what they have to do with the old currency notes as the expenses for redeeming them surpass the actual value of such demonetized currency they are holding with them.  However, the lucky NRIs and OCIs are those who return  to  Mumbai, Chennai, Nagpur, New Delhi and Kolkata.

Here is a typical  experience  that  this writer and his wife,  who are NRIs with OCI status faced right from the landing at the Shamshabad (Hyderabad) International Airport by Air India flight No. 126  on January 5.  The ordeal began in the aircraft itself, as the air-hostesses, who  gave NRIs and OCIs the immigration and customs forms do not know anything about the  customs procedure nor  do they have the forms that are needed to be submiteed.

To follow the procedure and get a customs clearance certificate, they approached the Airport Customs Officer Yadgir, who did not have the copies of the prescribed form, and he only gave them a proforma to a group of passengers asking them to copy it manually and get back to him.  The Customs Officer was literally mobbed by the passengers.  Though he showed enough patience, he was helpless to handle such a crowd.  When this writer copied the form one for him and one for his wife and took them to the Customs Officer, he wanted two copies of each application — one for his office record and one for giving back after certifying it to the passenger.  He additionally  informed the passengers to list the number of each currency note with its value. He also demanded a copy of the passport.  This needed a copier or a Xerox machine, which facility was not available anywhere around.  The Customs Office has a Xerox machine, but there was no operator.  At last the Customs Officer summoned a helper who oblized a few passengers to get copies, while  others like this writer started preparing copies of the application and the list of currency notes (with  their numbers) for him and his wife.  But most of the passengers had to seek the help of the kind Customs Officer’s aide to get their passport copies made. Some “resourceful” passengers, it is understood,  could get the work done outside the airport with the help of those who came to the airport to receive their dear ones.

For this writer and his wife, who are senior citizens,  the  whole painful process of their currency certified by the Customs Officer, took about three  hours.  But they did not realize that there was more ordeals in store for them at the Reserve Bank Of India in Hyderabad.

When they approached the Reserve Bank Of India on subsequent day, they were literally chased away  by the security person at the gate asking them look at the a paper notice shabbily pasted and displayed on the obscure compound wall of the  RBI.  As the place was mobbed by several people, this writer being a journalist requested the security person to allow him to see the Public Relations Officer.  The security  person obliged him and his wife to see the reception official, who after a few searching questions directed them to see the Security  Officer Capt. C. Balagopal, who showed a copy of the official circular their office received detailing the procedure for the redemption of the  notes and that facility is available only at RBI offices in Mumbai, New Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata and  Nagpur.  All those NRIs and NROs who have the old currency notes must go to one of these five centers and follow the procedure.  If there is any one who can help in the matter is only Ms. Alpana Killawala, chief general manager, stationed in Mumbai.  As a courtesy, he advised  this writer to send an e-mail to her.

When this writer insisted  on meeting the PRO, Capt.. Balagopal said that there is no PRO but Mr. Shanmugaram, personnel officer of RBI is available.  Mr. Shanmugaram, who  only spoke on internal phone, supported what Capt. Balagopal said.

Now  the question is, is it worth the trouble for a Hyderabad NRI or a Hyderabad OCI to travel all the way from Hyderabad to the nearest Mumbai, Chennai or Nagpur and stay in a hotel and approach the RBI to redeem a few thousands of rupees (even the maximum permissable amount  of Rs. 25,000)?   Additionally, there is a big list of several other certificates and documents one has to attach to the  application along with the demonetized currency notes for submitting to the RBI  at one of the five  locations.  Nor could the NRIs and OCIs keep those currency notes as souvenirs, because keeping them with oneself, it is said,  is a criminal offense punishable with a hefty fine,  but not amounting to jail term.

While the policy of demonetization by India is appreciated world over, it looks the overenthusiastic Indian bureaucracy is making its implementation cumbersome. Definitely the obstacles are not the making of the good-intended government policy.

If not all  branches of all commercial  banks, at least all branches of RBI must  be allowed to receive the Customs certified demonetized currency notes from the NRIs and OCIs to help them redeem their genuine money.

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