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UAE's Indian expats ask for more time to exchange scrapped rupee notes

DUBAI // Indian expatriates appealed to their government for enough time to get home and deposit the now-defunct 500 and 1,000-rupee notes.

Last week the government of prime minister Narendra Modi scrapped high-denomination banknotes in an attempt to tackle corruption and tax evasion, setting a December 30 deadline to exchange old bills.

India’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India, said those unable to deposit banknotes in their accounts by the year-end can do so at Reserve Bank offices “until a later date as may be specified.”

Expatriates worry that their cash will be worthless if they cannot return to India soon, and many are confused as to the deadline.

“It does not make sense to rush back to India to deposit money but I may have to,” said P Shahani, a housewife with 50,000 rupees, or Dh2,709, in invalid notes.

“It’s a great move overall but it’s not clear how much time we have.”

Jai Shirke, an electrician, was anxious because he could not go home for two years.

“I have 3,000 rupees,” Mr Shirke said. “My boss says that it’s nothing, but it’s a lot of money to me. It should not go waste.

“It’s a good move to catch big people sitting on black money, but why can’t people like me go back later and deposit money we have worked for?”

It may not be worthwhile for most Indians to travel back immediately because a return fare to Mumbai costs between 16,600 and 36,900 rupees.

Those heading home have borrowed change from friends in small notes because exchange counters at airports have run out.

Expatriates can give their friends a letter of authorisation, a copy of their ID and their invalid notes to friends or relatives returning home, but many would rather do it themselves.

Sayed Qutbur Rehman, head of a construction company, said the government’s move was ill conceived.

“It is a big problem for everybody, businessmen and normal people,” Mr Rehman said. “There are queues everywhere, the country and people are suffering. They should have found a more reasonable method.”

The government said the crackdown hit at the black economy, which investment company ­Ambit says is worth an estimated 20 per cent of India’s annual US$2 trillion (Dh7.34tn) gross domestic product.

“People don’t need to panic, even overseas,” said K U Shankari, who runs a computer shop. “We will have enough time to deposit legal money. This is 100 per cent a good move that will make the common man happy. Now what will people who took bribes do? They took hard-earned money from people and cannot exchange it legally. But the government should clarify if we can remit money from here.”

Indians are allowed to carry up to 25,000 rupees in cash when entering or leaving the country.

Money exchanges in the UAE have stopped accepting the old notes.

“Expatriates need to be patient – measures will be taken to see the common man does not lose a single rupee,” said Sudhir ­Kumar Shetty, president of UAE Exchange.

“We also have a stock of rupees and have sought clarification from the UAE Central Bank to deal with this invalid money. The top priority of the Indian government is to dispatch new notes, only then will they look overseas.”

The Indian embassy said it would take up the concerns with the ministry of external affairs.

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