Going cashless is the latest fad. Ever since PM Narendra Modi began exhorting his countrymen to go digital following his demonetisation drive, several states have been competing with each other to embrace it.
Every second day, a village in some corner of the country is being declared cashless.
As the PM extols the virtues of cashless transactions vigorously, the rush to declare villages cashless has only gathered pace. The states invariably showcase the villages as a milestone in fulfilling Modi’s vision. Armed with credit cards and e-wallets, HT reporters travelled to several ‘cashless villages’ across the country to determine how cashless they actually were on the ground.
Badjhiri (Madhya Pradesh)
“They (the authorities) say our village is the first cashless village in the state. The truth is we are really becoming cash-less,” laments Shyam Sharma, the ex-sarpanch of the roadside village of about 400 households some 25km away from Bhopal.
Earnings, Sharma and other villagers say, is down at least 50% following last month’s demonetisation.
State finance minister, Jayant Malaiya, declared Badjhiri cashless last week with much fanfare. But days later, less than half of the two dozen shops in the village have got swipe machines for cashless transactions.
Even those who have the machines complain not many villagers are willing to use them. “They don’t trust cashless transactions,” pointed out a grocer.
Shop owners say despite being the state’s first cashless village, they have their own compulsions in not insisting upon online payments. “Our business is already down. We can’t afford to turn away customers,” pointed out Vinod Verma, the owner of a general store.
Moolchand, a farmer, felt the PM has erred. “Jaldi ka kaam Shaitaan ka. Notebandi achchha decision tha, par bahut jaldi me kiya Modi ji ne, woh bhi bina taiyari ke…(Acting in haste is the work of devil. Demonetisation was a good decision by Modi, but he did it without much preparation and in haste)”, he pointed out.
Scorecard: HT checked out 4 outlets: Grocery, vegetable vendor, fertilizer seller, tea vendor: Two had swipe machines.
Lanura (Jammu & Kashmir)
Grocer Shabir Ahmad Lone had to wait for his first online transaction for a week, until the HT reporter walked into his shop to buy chips using Paytm.
He and the other shopkeepers of this village in Budgam district have been taught to handle online payments and also have e-wallet app ready for use on their smart phones.
But none of the locals have used this mode of payment since Lanura, 25 kms from Srinagar, was declared cashless. “Yes, we have been trained. But on an everyday basis, a cashless economy is not functional in this village. People are using cash,” regrets Lone.
A press release issued by the state government boasted last week about the cashless feat. “At least one member of each household has been trained to use the electronic payment system,” it boasted. Villagers, however, say a majority of them don’t have smart phones. Their mobile phones are also not linked to their bank accounts.
Scorecard: HT checked four outlets: grocery, tailor, gas cylinder dealer and pharmacy. All four are using cash though 2 had Paytm facilities.
The sleepy village in Siddipet district some 125km away from Hyderabad made national headlines early this month when union informational technology minister Ravishankar Prasad hailed it as ‘South India’s first cashless village” in a tweet.
T Harish Rao, the Telangana irrigation minister and nephew of CM K Chandrasekhar Rao, had formally declared Ibrahimpur as ‘cashless’ on December 5.
Two weeks later, the village of 270 households is struggling to live up to its reputation. A majority of the locals have bank accounts and debit cards, but cash is still the norm.
Some auto drivers are accepting online payments, but most don’t. Shops have got electronic point of sale (POS) machines, but women shopkeepers say they do not know how to use them. “Only men of the village know,” one of them said. An official of Andhra Bank, overseeing the digitisation initiative in the village, admitted “the teething troubles would be overcome soon”.
Scorecard: HT checked out three general stores and a tea vendor. Online payments worked at only two of them.
Jagdish Singh, a farmer, is stumped when told that his village in Panipat district has gone cashless. “Really? What does it mean,” he asked in bewilderment.
Chander Sekhar Khare, the Panipat deputy commissioner, had no such doubts while declaring Jhatipur ‘cashless’ last week. He said the village is ready to transact through e-wallets while swipe machines will be made available to all retail outlets over coming days.
The local pharmacy still has a ‘only cash’ sign prominently painted on its wall. Sarpanch Ashok Kumar pointed out that though many shopkeepers have opened PayTM accounts, most preferred to accept cash. Ranbeer Singh, who runs a general store, said cash was in circulation in the so-called cashless village. “As of now we are selling in cash and the officials are saying they will make our village cashless. Let’s see what happens next,” he said.
Scorecard: HT visited 4 outlets: None had online transaction facilities.
It has been a week since the local media and social media have been abuzz with two tribal villages of the state going cashless: Jariya bordering the neighbouring state of Odisha, and Palnaar in Dantewada district.
Predominantly tribal, Jariya has just seven shops. Yet, ensuring cashless transactions at the handful of shops is proving to be a challenge.
The local sarpanch, Sanjay Kishore Lakda, claims every household has a bank account and an ATM card. Shop owners have also installed e-wallets on their phones. But online transactions are still few and far between. “Only 23 customers made transactions through ‘SBI Buddy’ the entire week,” pointed out Amit Sagar, a grocer.
“Sab to nahi… lekin bahut log use kar rahe hain aur unko labh bhi mil raha hai ( Not everyone but many people are using the application and are being benifited),” added Lakda.
The authorities say swipe machines will shortly reach the shops, allowing them to accept credit and debit cards. But not everyone in the village is impressed. “This was just a gimmick,” said Santosh Chaudhary, a local journalist.
Scorecard: HT checked out a tea stall, ration shop, vegetable vendor and fertilizer dealer. Only the tea vendor was using e-wallet.
(With inputs from Neeraj Mohan in Haryana, Srinivasa Rao Apparasu in Telangana, Ritesh Mishra in Chhattisgarh, Neeraj Santoshi in MP and Abhishek Saha in Jammu&Kashmir)