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No ATMs, high transaction rate make Telangana’s cashless villagers dump cards

Residents say they went cashless to join fight against corruption after demonetisation, but due to high rates charged by the banks, they had to return to cash mode.

india Updated: Oct 13, 2017 07:54 IST
Srinivasa Rao Apparasu
Srinivasa Rao Apparasu
Hindustan Times, Ibrahimpur (Telangana)
Cashless transactions,Cashless,Digital money
With no ATMs, villagers make do with the facility called Stree Nidhi Bank to withdraw money. The facility is run by S Devalatha (pic) to assist women self-help groups.(HT Photo)

In nine months, Areti Praveen’s life has come full circle.

The 25-year-old adopted cashless transactions at his provision store last December, roughly a month after the government’s shock withdrawal of high-currency notes in a bid to fight dodgy cash.

His sleepy village in Telangana’s Siddipet district — Ibrahimpur — hit the headlines as south India’s first cashless village. Journalists poured in to chronicle the 1,200-odd local residents who refused to accept cash even for auto fares or snacks.

But now, the euphoria is dead. Villagers have been forced to return to cash because of the high rates charged by banks for transactions — and say turning cashless again is unlikely.

“All of us returned our swiping machines to the bank as the authorities are collecting a rental charge of Rs 1,400 per month, irrespective of the volume of business we did. Even if we did not use the machine, we were forced to pay the amount,” Praveen told Hindustan Times.

“In a span of six months, I had to incur a loss of Rs 10,000 just for using the machine. What is the use of cashless transaction then?”

When Hindustan Times visited the village, around 125 kilometres from Hyderabad, none of the seven shops were accepting cards and insisted on using cash.

“Sorry. Only cash, no card please,” was the response of Durgaiah, a vendor running Renuka Tiffin Centre, when this correspondent offered to pay through a debit card. “We stopped using cards now. If we want cash, we go to ATMs and draw money,” said 70-year old Bhumaiah, a local farmer.

Residents say they went cashless to join the fight against corruption and battle a cash crunch that swept the country following the November 8 scrapping of Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes. At that time, the Telangana government and the Centre were pushing for cashless transactions and Ibrahimpur was declared a model village to be emulated across India.

Now, villagers admit it was a mistake.

“We have realised there is no point in making cashless transactions compulsory. It is better to leave it to the consumer whether to use the card or cash,” said Kumbhala Yella Reddy, son of sarpanch K Lakshmi Devi.

Mulla Shankar, the manager of the local branch of Andhra Bank admitted the cashless transaction concept was a failure. “Before giving the swiping machines, we told them about the rental charge of Rs 1,400 per month. But in their enthusiasm, they did not bother. Since they are all petty merchants, they found it a big burden and hence, they returned the machines,” Shankar said.

The villagers say they are proud of the attention their move garnered — the village was publicised by the state and central governments and acknowledged by Union IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad — but found it difficult to maintain the Electronic Point of Sale (E-PoS) machines and later, swiping machines with GPRS facility. But the government isn’t giving up yet and said it has asked the banks to waive the charges.

“They are all petty shopkeepers with a small turnover. Obviously, they could not bear the heavy service. We have appealed to the banks to waive these charges. If it happens, we can motivate the people again to go back to cashless transactions,” said state irrigation minister and local MLA T Harish Rao.

The village is just seven kilometre away from Chintamadaka, the native village of chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao who is also Harish Rao’s uncle.

With no ATMs, villagers say they make do with the Stree Nidhi Bank facility to withdraw cash. It is run by S Devalatha in collaboration with Andhra Bank to assist women self-help groups with their savings.

Besides, she pays pensions to the old and the disabled in the village. “We bring cash in smaller amounts from Andhra Bank regularly to pay pensions in cash. We verify their credentials through their Aadhaar cards and also by taking their thumb impressions using a biometric machine, which is linked to my computer,” Devalatha told Hindustan Times.

She also has a swiping machine, which is linked to the bank. “We swipe the card for the required amount and pay the cash to the people, irrespective of whether they belong to our village or not. I get a commission of around Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000 per month,” she said.

First Published: Oct 13, 2017 07:43 IST