Coin shortage leaves a trail of frayed tempers as public struggles to cope

At a petty shop in K. K. Nagar, business is booming. Customers demand cigarettes and newspapers as well as small biscuit packets for their evening tea. When it’s time to pay, every customer hands a 50 or 100 rupee note.

For A. Ramakrishnan, the phrase ‘No change,’ has become a part of his daily lexicon as he depends on the rotation of money through his customers for currency.

“Most of the things I sell are of odd denominations, like this popular Tamil magazine that costs Rs. 12. People pay up with a 50 or 100 rupee note and it is impossible to give every customer the change,” he says.

Shortage

Clearly, there is a shortage of coins in Madurai, especially of Rs. 2 and Rs. 5.

“There are times when I have to refuse a sale. On an average, every day I am unable to sell goods amounting to Rs. 500 only because both the customer and I don’t have the right change,” he points out.

City banks too say that they have customers coming to them asking for small change to facilitate daily transactions with share autorickshaws, buses and grocery shops, but are often not able to meet their request for coins.

“There is always a steady demand for coins. We do not get any over-the-counter deposits that are made in coins and the lack of supply forces us to refuse customer requests on most occasions,” says the deputy general manager of a private sector bank, and adds that the only time the banks get coins from the customers is for Government Challan remittances which are still in odd denominations.

Most banks receive coins in bulk during the festival season, especially Pongal and Diwali. Small packets with 100 coins of Rs. 5 denomination are kept handy and given to people who ask for change.

“When temples have accounts with our banks, their deposits are one of the major sources of coins,” said P. Varsha, a bank employee.

“But they don’t empty their Hundis or cash boxes on a day-to-day basis, and their deposits vary. It is hard to predict supply,” she adds.

Toffees for change

Customers at supermarkets too have their own grouse. “Many supermarkets do not give us change. Toffees are no substitute for money, however small the denomination might be. The cashiers always claim to be short of change and we have no choice but to accept the toffees,” says P. Vani, an engineering student.

“Most products sold at present have rates that have been rounded off so that there is no difficulty during the time of sale owing to a lack of change. But the rounding off will add up in the long run,” she adds.

Dip in circulation

Coin collectors too agree that that they have seen a dip in the circulation of coins in the city.

“Even though there are products priced at 50 paise, the denomination has been forgotten. The one rupee coin too is fast disappearing,” says T. J. Shanmugalal, Secretary of the Madurai Philatelists and Numismatists Association.

“Of the seven denominations of paise coins which used to be in circulation, there are none today except the rarely-sighted 50 paise coins. The 25 paise coins are impossible to find, except with collectors like me,” he adds matter-of-factly.

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