How often have you been offered chocolates instead of small change at stores and restaurants?

Shopkeepers and hoteliers say they are finding it increasingly difficult to provide loose change to customers.

Coins of Rs. 2 and Rs. 5 denominations are becoming scarce in the city. Though banks and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Chennai region, have facilities to distribute coins, traders say the coins supplied are not adequate.

V. Murugesan who runs a grocery store in Kilpauk says: “I need coins amounting to Rs. 15,000 every month. But my bank provides me just about Rs. 3,000 in coins. I am forced to source loose change from agents who charge a 10 per cent commission. I have no option as I cannot deny change to customers.”

Sometimes traders have to bear losses due to a dearth of coins. A few stores in the city have also put up boards inviting customers to exchange coins for currency notes.

Ravi Gupta, a trader in Anna Nagar, says: “Often, customers expect us to have small change. I wait in the queue at RBI counters to get coins. But, RBI too has set a limit on the amount one person can take as coins.”

According to sources at Hotel Saravana Bhavan, the hotel’s branches use coins worth around Rs. 80,000 to Rs.1 lakh every day.

“Commission agents from Tirupati get us the change on a regular basis. We pay TDS for the commission we pay. At present, we are paying a commission of 14 per cent. Banks supply coins only once a month, and that too, for a maximum of Rs. 20,000, which is inadequate,” the source says.

Some merchants source coins from temples. “Not all bank branches have counters to distribute coins or exchange soiled notes. Many people like me get coins from a temple in Anna Nagar and avoid the queues in banks,” says S. Shankaran.

Several agents too source coins from temples and even beggars to supply to traders and hoteliers for a commission of 10-5 per cent.

Officials of various banks say they provide coins to bulk and retail customers. However, they can only make limited trips to the currency chests.

A bank official in a public sector bank in Avadi says: “We source 10-15 bags of coins of various denominations a month. At least four persons, including armed security guards, need to travel to carry the heavy sacks of coins. The lack of staff members and the cost involved in the trips have forced us to limit the trips.”

However, officials of RBI say it is a ‘perceived shortage’ as people expect merchants to provide exact change every time.

On an average, coins worth Rs. 1 lakh are supplied through the four coin-vending machines at the RBI office on Rajaji Salai. “We allow a person to avail coins worth Rs. 500 only in a single day to ensure that everyone gets enough coins,” an official says.

Coins worth over Rs. 16 crore have been pumped into the city through fairs and coin melas. “We are encouraging banks to install coin-vending machines and are also offering them a subsidy. Banks in urban areas get 50 per cent as subsidy,” the official says.

At present, 18 bank branches, some in trade hubs, have been identified to distribute coins daily. This will be increased in three or four months.

Recently, RBI issued a circular to bank branches asking them to set up counters to provide loose change. This is expected to take shape in a few months, the official says.

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MONEY MATTERS

18 bank branches have been identified to distribute coins daily and tide over the shortage

1. There is a dearth of Rs. 2, Rs. 5 coins in the city

2. Banks say they distribute 10-30 bags, each containing 2,500 coins, every month

3. RBI has pumped in coins worth nearly Rs. 16 crore over the past year

4. RBI wants coin-vending machines to be installed in banks to ensure adequate stock

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