Twenty-year-old Shyamala has never been happier.
The daily wage worker in Ibrahimpur village of Telangana’s Siddipet district says her husband Rajasekhar does not pester her every evening to part with her hard-earned money to buy alcohol.
“I don’t have even a single rupee with me now. All that I have now is this debit card. I earn Rs 200-Rs 250 a day and it is deposited in my Andhra Bank account. I don’t give a penny to my husband now,” Shyamala says.
“Whenever I want to purchase anything – provisions or vegetables or even biscuits for my son, I go to the shop and swipe the card in the machine to pay the required amount,” she adds.
Last week, the sleepy village about 125 km from Hyderabad officially became the first hamlet in south India to go cashless. Except for school-going children, about 1,200 villagers belonging 370 families - were given debit cards.
Ibrahimpur is represented by chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s nephew and irrigation minister T Harish Rao.
“There are no cash transactions in the village now. While 70% of them already have their bank accounts, in the last one month we have ensured that all the remaining families have opened their accounts in Andhra Bank branch at the nearby Nararayanraopet village,” Kumbala Yella Reddy, son of sarpanch Kumbala Lakshmi, told Hindustan Times.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s November 8 surprise move to ban Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 banknotes resulted in an acute scarcity of cash, especially across the countryside and millions have had to stand in serpentine queues to withdraw money from banks and ATMs.
The demonetisation move, Modi said, was a part of his government’s efforts to purge illegal money from the market and cull counterfeit currency. It is also aimed at fast-tracking the country towards a digital, cashless economy nudging more and more Indians to use internet and mobile banking and open bank accounts.
All the shops in the village, including provision stores, fertiliser shop, fair price shop, have been provided with point of sale (PoS) machines, where villagers can swipe their cards to buy goods for their daily requirements.
“I don’t accept cash now just to encourage the villagers to use their smart cards,” Praveen, a grocery shop owner, says.
Most of the villagers own smartphones and have downloaded the Andhra Bank’s mobile wallet. “We are now getting instant messages whenever we do any transaction,” 50-year-old Ramulu, an agriculturist, says.
However, villagers say they sometimes face the problem of network connectivity and as a result, the swiping machines stop accepting the transactions.
“But since it is all within the village and we all know one another, we are able to manage. Only for outsiders, it is a problem,” Praveen says.
To overcome this problem, the village administration has decided to provide free wi-fi connectivity to the entire village shortly. “Once we get wi-fi, we are going to be completely hi-tech and smart,” Yella Reddy says.
In spite of getting used to cashless transactions in the last one week, some villagers desperately need money. “I do not know how to use the cards. I need money for the purchase of rice and vegetables,” 75-year-old Muthava, who gets Rs 1,000 every month as old age pension, says.
Yella Reddy says that problem has also been taken care of.
“The minister has asked bank authorities to make an arrangement to disburse cash to villagers in emergency situations by using debit cards,” Reddy said.
The village also has a drinking water dispensing machine that can be used by swiping smart cards. “All the villagers have been provided with Any Time Water (ATW) cards and all that they have to do is to swipe it in the equipment and they will get 20 litres of water at a time,” Yella Reddy adds.