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Food cards at Parliament canteens soon as digital drive fails to take off

The Lok Sabha secretariat is preparing to introduce “food cards” — similar to those for the Metro — after a failed bid to promote the use of credit and debit cards in Parliament’s four canteens following last year’s demonetisation.

india Updated: Dec 06, 2017 07:36 IST
Saubhadra Chatterji
Saubhadra Chatterji
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Parliament,Parliament canteens,Food cards
According to the 2015 estimate, 42% of the food is consumed by staff and security personnel when Parliament is in recess. (File Photo)

Members and Parliament staff may get prepaid “food cards” to pay bills at House canteens in yet another push for cashless transactions at the cafes, where cash is still the king.

The Lok Sabha secretariat is preparing to introduce these cards — similar to those for the Metro — after a failed bid to promote the use of credit and debit cards in Parliament’s four canteens following last year’s demonetisation.

“We have tied up with the State Bank of India (SBI) to introduce the new system. There will be card readers in the canteens and it will make payments easier than dealing with cash,” Ashok Kumar Singh, who is additional secretary in the Lok Sabha secretariat and is in charge of the canteens, said on Monday.

The cards can be refilled at the bank’s Parliament complex branches.

After Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the decision to withdraw 1,000 and 500-rupee banknotes on November 8 last year, Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan had launched POS (point of sales) machines in all the cafes.

But it was a non-starter, as people preferred to pay for their food, which is highly subsidised, in cash.

“A vegetarian thali costs around Rs 40. A masala dosa is priced at Rs 20. People continued to pay these small amounts in cash,” said an official.

Other than fighting corruption, black money and terror funding, demonetisation was also described as a move to push for digital payments and a step towards a cashless economy.

Of the four canteens, one is exclusively for Members of Parliament. The other three are used by parliament staff, journalists and visitors. Around 4,500 people eat in the canteens every day when Parliament is in session, according to an estimate provided by the food committee of the Lok Sabha in 2015, the latest year for which data is available.

The Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha together have 790 members and the combined staff strength is around 2,900.

According to the 2015 estimate, 42% of the food is consumed by staff and security personnel when Parliament is in recess.

Card payments never crossed more than Rs 50,000 a month, which amounted to less than five per cent of the total transactions, sources said. A few months after they were introduced, the POS machines disappeared.

“Normally, MPs consume snacks and tea and coffee in Parliament’s Central Hall. For such small amounts they prefer to pay in cash. The SIM card-attached POS machines don’t work in Central Hall due to jammers. MPs find it cumbersome to go to the POS machine in one corner of the Central to enter the pin,” said BJD MP Tathagata Sathpathy.

The digital push might have been a non-starter in cafes but Parliament successfully introduced e-payments for all members, staff and vendors this April.

Replacing the system of drawing cheques, the Lok Sabha secretariat now transfers salaries directly to members’ bank accounts. The Rajya Sabha has its own e-payment system.

In October, the LS secretariat disbursed Rs 35.86 crore through e-payments and in November the amount increased to Rs 40 crore.

First Published: Dec 06, 2017 07:36 IST