What happens if you run out of money and can’t get more, a traveller’s nightmare. Further, forget credit cards. Yes, no cash, no food, no transportation and no place to stay! But, you have lots of funds back home and along with US notes, but there is a “cash shortage” and you can’t use an ATM and you can’t convert it – help!
Of course, no sane leadership would create such a situation. The impact of a money deficit on local business in cash dependent country could bring down their economy. So could this happen due to government policy changes?
On November 8, 2016, election day in the US, India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi announced the 500 (US$3.50) and the 1000 (US$7) rupee notes would no longer be legal tender in two days. They’d be replaced with new 500 and 2000 bills to stamp out corruption. India’s leaders asserted there’d be no negative impacts resulting from this action and a sufficient supply of new money
The banks needed to stock ATMs with the new currency, but there were too few bills. The machines soon ran out of money. Withdrawals were limited to 2000 (US$ 15) rupees. No one outside government and banking circles knew about this change ahead of time. Modi departed for Japan.
The leadership promised the new notes would be available on November 11th, the day the old ones became worthless. Indians could exchange or deposit their redundant money until December 30th. For now, they could only exchange 4000 rupees per day ($30). One problem, there is a currency shortage. Oh wait, many locals don’t have bank accounts, so they’d have to open one or lose their money. Great for the banks, taxation and future bail-ins.
On November 11th, I entered a bank in Darjeeling to exchange my four 500 rupee banknotes ($30). The manager approached me and told me only depositors could do this due to a lack of cash. I explained I needed to eat. He persisted, but then relented kindly. They changed the money, giving me 20, 100 rupee bills and I left for Siliguri.
I’d reserved a hotel in Siliguri which accepted credit cards, but mine didn’t work, so most of my remaining currency went to pay for accommodation and a $1.75 dinner of noodles. The hotel wouldn’t take US dollars and the ATMs shut down and the exchange places were closed.
The next morning, I was to leave for Delhi on 30 plus hr ride. The tuk tuk to the train station would take almost all my resources, so no money to buy food for a day and a half! If I made it to Delhi, could I get cash? At least in Delhi, I could find restaurants and hotels to take my card, but these are always expensive. What to do?
The only solution, leave. Fortunately, Nepal is close. I took a 20 rupee (28 cents) bus to the border. A power tripping, greedy immigration official insisted my passport wouldn’t scan, and my entry visa had an issue. I told him, this had never happened before and it was from Delhi’s airport! So much for his bribe attempt. He stamped it, and I walked into Nepal, where the ATMs worked, and all money was legal tender.
Corruption experts know changing the currency won’t stamp out corruption. Not all corruption works by handing over bribe cash. Lucrative appointments, campaign and foundation donations and in a few countries, an appointment to a political body, such as the senate in Canada or as an as ambassador to a desirable country act as rewards for services rendered.
As for your tourist industry, stranding tourists drives them away, as it did me. Either there is a hidden agenda to this folly, or India’s policy makers goofed up spectacularly.
In an era of strange policy moves and decisions, travellers will be impacted more. If I encountered a working ATM, my withdrawal was limited, as it was for Indians or perhaps, my card wouldn’t work. Further, a 200 rupee fee would be added or 10% of my funds.
Trying to insulate yourself from the consequences of an unknown and harmful change could prove difficult. For me, Nepal’s border was close and got some breaks from helpful Indians, so the problem was solved. For others, the outcomes will be greater. Some alleged Indian deaths due to the inability to buy medicine have resulted from this insanity.
In the past, I could predict where to go and where not to go. If something happened to impact me, I was always prepared or devise a quick solution. In this case, I resolved the issue with ease only because I was near a frontier, but as travellers, we must prepare ourselves for more crazy situations in this insane world.