Mumbai: Prime Minister Narendra Modi+ maintained such a deep level of secrecy in executing the decision to demonetise two-high value denominations, that even the top bankers of the country had no idea about the move till he went on air at 8 pm on November 8 to announce the decision to the world, reported TOI.
In the first week of November, RBI officials+ informed the chairpersons and MDs of all the top banks in India about a meeting at the central bank’s headquarters in south Mumbai scheduled for 7 pm on November 8. Uncharacteristically, the RBI didn’t specify any particular agenda for the meeting, two bankers said. Usually, the central bank gives some notice to bankers when they are called for a meeting since it wants them to come prepared.
On the day of the meeting, convened on the 15th floor of the RBI’s Mint Street headquarters, all the top bankers of India, each with more than three decades of experience in the sector, were in attendance.
The meeting started with RBI officials mainly discussing the situation pertaining to non-performing assets in the banking sector, a hot topic for the sector till that day. They discussed some other issues related as well. Just before 8 pm, RBI officials switched on the TVs in the room. They said that the PM would be on air soon, and they would continue the discussion after his speech, the bankers told TOI.
Until the time the PM had announced that India was scrapping Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes in less than four hours, none of the top bankers had any clue that the next few days would be their careers’ most challenging. “Basically it was as much of a surprise to us as to anybody else,” said SBI chairperson Arundhati Bhattacharya+ . After the PM ended his speech, the bankers wanted to leave immediately and start work.
“The mood (with everyone present) was just to get out of the place and get things in place. We had to get out quickly to tell our people to switch off the ATMs by midnight; about the evacuation the next day, which was a huge exercise, then to take care of the recalibration; in the branches, what would be the instructions because there was to be exchanges, Rs 10,000 withdrawals etc,” the SBI chief added.
However, the RBI deputy governors listed out what was expected of them and the bankers scrambled to meet their teams. The SBI chairman, along with others, left the meeting between 9.30 pm and 9.45 pm. By the time she reached her home at Malabar Hills around 10 pm, she had called some of her top officials to her bungalow. Soon enough, the meeting started and went on until the early hours. The next three days proved to be a tough challenge for the banking veterans, but they say that things have since started to fall in place.