[I run the risk of coming across as cynical, pessimistic and negative by this post – I’ve been accused of being each of the three in three separate circumstances by three different people. So kindly send better adjectives my way].
I consider myself privileged to have been alive the day India decided to go cashless (November 8, 2016). With no TV set in my room, I only knew when my roommate arrived around 9:30pm exultant and jumping “I’M SO HAPPY NOW ALL MY IAS UNCLES ARE GOING TO JAIL”.
If you think this is going to be yet another article slamming the demonetisation-drama-debacle (come on, it came in a package), then no. Too late for that. And I know even the people that only scroll down their FB feed had enough of it. The trolls felt distasteful after a while, probably on account of mocking a mockery that was playing out in real life. I mean it’s all funny until you run out of money yourself.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for less-cash economies. But if you’re anything remotely Indian or have really visited this place (and not just prosperous pockets of it), you’d know we’re lightyears away from a cashless economy, SO WHO WERE WE KIDDING? (Who was kidding who might have been a better question but I hope all questions have been appeased by now).
Casual fun fact about me: My stomach can’t digest beef. Now that casual lynching’s been crossed out, read on knowing that the author’s still alive.
Anyhow, this post is to share MY FAVORITE NEWS ARTICLE from the past one year. I guess it took a while to make it to the blog, mostly because there were trolls, satire and what-not being churned out everyday on the topic, and I generally dislike commotion.
I copypasted in case you didn’t want to left-click on the link. It happened in Delhi.
‘Digital’ village asks what’s netbanking
Around 10 days ago, a team of Delhi government officials handed over two PoS (point of sale) machines to kirana (grocery) store owners Surat Singh and Ramesh Kumar, both residents of Surakhpur village in Najafgarh, on the Delhi-Haryana border.
The officials taught the two how to use the machines. On Wednesday, when The Hindu visited the village, where the front walls of most houses are plastered with cow dung cakes, it found Mr. Singh’s machine “safely” locked inside a drawer in the shop. Mr. Singh (60), who runs the store his wife Raj Kor, said, “I run a small shop. People come here to buy basic items and the bill amount is usually low. For other necessities they go to ‘Delhi’.”
‘Who will bear cost?’
He said initially some curious customers tried to use the machine, but now there were hardly any requests for online payments. Mr. Singh does not know who will pay the Internet charges for the machine whose plastic cover is still intact. Also, the Internet connectivity is poor in Surakhpur. “Most of the time the server is down,” he said.
The approximate population of Surakhpur is 1,500 and the nearest bank and ATM are around 3 km away in Mitraon village. This effort to promote cashless transactions in Surakhpur started on December 26, when Sub-Divisional Magistrate Anjali Sehrawat, along with her team, inspected the area. A camp was set up and people were asked to get their Aadhaar cards made and fill up forms for opening bank accounts. “The purpose was to ensure that in each household at least one person has a bank account. Surakhpur was chosen for this pilot project due to its less population,” said Ms. Sehrawat.
The officials held two workshops at the chaupal, a meeting place for the elders, and taught the villagers about netbanking and e-wallets. LED screens were installed for the demonstration. After providing the PoS machines and opening bank accounts, the project was over.
On Tuesday, the Delhi government officially declared Surakhpur as the first village in Delhi to be “fully digital payment enabled”. But most residents here, particularly the women, are clueless about the project.
The literacy rate in the village is low and not everyone uses a smartphone. Meenakshi, a 22-year-old mother of two, said she had never been to a bank. “I don’t think any woman here knows how to withdraw money from ATM, leave alone making payments through phone.”
Ajit Singh, a retired central government employee, was surprised over the announcement.
“How can they declare our village cashless or digital when the work hasn’t even started,” he said.
Another resident, Amit Kumar, said he doesn’t know if Surakhpur is a “cashless” village, but it is definitely a “waterless village”. The residents still rely on water tankers despite a pipeline being recently laid. The villagers said the piped water is contaminated.
Some residents even contested the claim that each household has a bank account holder. A resident, who didn’t wish to be named, even wrote to the Prime Minister Office on January 16 after the bank in Mitraon village refused to open the accounts of 19 residents whose documents weren’t in order.
Even Ms. Sehrawat accepted that there was still a lot of work to be done in the project. She clarified that Surakhpur is not a “cashless village” as reported by the media. “The literacy rate is poor and network connectivity is low. Our main aim was to provide infrastructure, which we have. Now it is up to the people to make payments digitally,” she said.
I do not know if officials followed a target-based approach on attaining ‘digital villages’, but after all we’re the nation of Ramanujam and Aryabhatta and an array of astonishingly great GDP figures. Surely if nothing else we should be able to produce good numbers, no? A little twisting here, a little tweaking there and we’re good to go.
Nine percent of rural India had access to mobile internet in early 2016. That’s a single-digit-number. It may not seem shocking, but it would’ve had I asked you to guess the figure first. For non-Indians who wonder why this is relevant, seventy percent of our population resides in the villages.
Before we bash or hail decisions, and more so before taking decisions, it’s good to put some perspective in place. But whether it’s reasonable to expect that in a nation of political gimmicks is debatable.
PS : (For the purpose of closure) My roommate’s mom clarified that all her uncles’ cash was invested in real estate, they caught all the non-uncles in the country though I think.