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Anger rises after India scraps old notes at petrol pumps

An Indian customer pays for fuel with old 500 rupee notes at a petrol station in New Delhi on the last day on which the old currency can be used to purchase fuel © AFP / Dominique FAGET

New Delhi, India, Dec 2 – India said old notes would no longer be accepted at petrol stations after Friday, fuelling anger over the scrapping of high denomination bills that has caused an unprecedented cash crunch.

Indians had been given until December 15 to use the old bills at filling stations but the government rushed forward the deadline on Thursday evening, giving millions of commuters still using the old 500 rupee notes barely 24 hours to spend them.

“This cannot be right. First you say we have until December 15 and suddenly now you are saying something else,” said R. S. Yadav, a government employee, as he waited for his turn on a rickety two-wheeler at a refuelling station in New Delhi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi sparked turmoil with his shock announcement last month that all 500 rupee ($7.30) and 1,000 rupee notes — some 86 percent of all bills in circulation — would cease to be legal tender.

The sweeping abolition of all high-value notes was meant to bring billions in so-called “black”, or undeclared, money back into the formal system, the government says.

The move has triggered chaos with long queues forming outside banks as people try to deposit their old notes or withdraw new ones.

Frequent rule changes in response to pressure from various groups and growing disorder have made matters worse.

Banks and ATMs have also been running out of cash with limits being put on withdrawals, forcing people to cut down their spending.

Those with old notes are allowed to deposit them into their bank accounts until year end but long bank queues had prompted many to use them at gas stations.

Cash accounts for 90 percent of transactions in India and the government has said it would take time before new bills are distributed.

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“I was using my old notes up till now for filling petrol. Now I am dreading going to the bank. The government has no clue what we are being made to go through,” said Saurav Mallik, who works in the private sector.

The problem was not restricted to consumers, said Saima, who works as an attendant at a petrol filling station.

“I worry that there is going to be more confusion and chaos in the days ahead,” Saima, who uses only one name, told AFP. “Fights have already been breaking out.”

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