NEW DELHI: Looks like Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pan-India appeal is working in favour of the government making a fervent appeal to people to go cashless.
On a day ATMs ran dry on the payday (Wednesday), leaving the common man high and dry, it turned out that a cashless society is a long way off, even as the educated upper class looks poised to “go for it”, given the way they have lapped up Modi’s digital economy scheme, post demonetisation announced on November 8.
On being asked if e-wallets will work in India, Newsmobile.in founder and editor-in-chief Saurabh Shukla told this reporter, “E-wallets are a great concept, but will take some time before Indians can adopt them. It will be a gradual process and is not going to be easy, but the change is imperative for us to be a truly global economy.”
Demonetisation the first step
Similar views were expressed by general manager in charge of corporate image building and CSR at Prism Cement Limited Sanjai Banerji, who lauded the banning of currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 denominations, saying “Demonetisation is the first step towards a cashless society.”
Pressed to think about the poor and the hapless people, who may not share his enthusiasm for the e-wallets such as Paytm, Banerji added, “My milkman and domestic help already have bank accounts. I have helped them to fill up the bank form for debit cards. Once they get them, it won’t take time to use the ATM. This is the first step. All the poor labourers who are contractual labours in our organisation are being paid directly in their bank accounts and not by cash. If all the citizens of our country think positive, it can be done. We have NGOs doing wonderful jobs at the grassroots level. If awareness is promulgated, nothing is impossible. The man who used to press my clothes is applying for a credit card with the SBI using his Aadhaar Card and bank passbook showing his monthly income of Rs 15,000.”
On Wednesday, digital payment company Paytm claimed 35 million online recharges done on platform since demonetisation. That was also when the government appointed Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu the convenor of a 13-member committee to look into all issues related to demonetisation and its aftermath. Naidu, who believes that by January things will be normal, cites “a backward and illiterate country like Kenya”, which has maximum mobile currency.
Comman man suffers
While he is optimistic about mobile penetration and a collective will, all is not well with the working class and the man in the street.
For example, Pappu, a Delhi-based fruit-seller from Bihar’s Saharsa, is not at all happy post demonetisation. “My business has taken a node-dive,” he says, adding, “E-wallets don’t work. We need cash for our day-to-day operation”. “Kaun musibat mol le (who wants to get trapped),” he told this reporter sotto voce, meaning, black money of many of his ilk might get disclosed – “not thinkable”, he says, a sardonic smile playing on his lips.
Delhi-based milkman Lalit, who runs his business mostly in west Delhi, fails to make sense of e-wallets. Upon being told repeatedly how to use them, Lalit, who hails from Darbhanga, said, “Samajh mein nahi aata. Hamen to cash ki jaroorat hoti hai har din. (Can’t understand the ABC of e-wallets. We need cash to operate on a day-to-day basis.”
‘No clue’ how govt will roll out a cashless economy
Government employee Lochan Singh who was doing the rounds of the banks one full day on Wednesday, on November 30, makes a long face when reminded of his status of an insider. He has no idea how the government has planned to do things. He looks abstractedly about himself when asked if he has heard of e-wallets such as Paytm or offline wallets such as Serve’d that has been launched for the poor.
Lochan Singh comes across as one of many Indians to whom e-wallet ecosystem and digital economy carry little meaning.
“Don’t know. Even if I try to install them on my phone, I might end up typing wrong mobile numbers. Who cares?” he adds.
Aabaad ya barbaad: Give Modi a chance
However, wisdom of a cashless economy is not lost on a rickshaw-puller, outside an HDFC Bank, who gave a thumbs-up to Modi. Though Kishan, who hails from Muzaffarpur in Bihar, doesn’t use Paytm or any cash cards – “hamare liye to cash hi theek hai (For us cash is fine)” – he talks of a “kranti” (revolution). “Karne do jo isko karna hai. Ye Narendra Modi ya to aabaad kar dega ya barbaad kar dega desh ko (Let him do what he wants to do. He will either modernise the nation or destroy it),” Kishan avers, looking into skies, poetically.
Even as Kishan was singing paens to Modi, chaos and panic reigned in Modi land on Nov 30 and Dec 1.
Across the road, where Kishan delivered his filmi dialogue, banks had pasted “no cash” notices outside as bankers were clueless. On being asked if he can give any specific time when the cash would come the next day, an HDFC bank employee said, “Come tomorrow at 8am. There is no cash. You can see (the notice). We have no idea when we will get cash.”
With cash “going out of our lives”, amid many bottlenecks such as people in rural areas still using feature phones, India hardly looks prepared for a cashless economy, despite the elite giving Modi the benefit of doubt, thinking the demonetisation is a magic wand that will really do away with black money and terror funding.
Media professional Praful (name changed), though upbeat about the reasons to ban notes, looks clueless about “going cashless”. “I’m ashamed to say it. I don’t know how to use Paytm or e-wallets, but ultimately we will need to use it.” “I am pained at the deaths post demonetisation and the problems people face, but cashless economy is the need of the hour, I guess.”
Quite possible to go cashless
CA student Achin Soni says “it is possible to go cashless.”
“In cities like Delhi/NCR, it is easy to do as compared to rural or semi-urban parts as people in big cities are more aware about cashless techniques. He adds that it is better to use the word “Less Cash Economy” rather than “Cash Less Economy” as some cash may always exist in economy.
Guys look at the other side — 1.2 billion people economically interconnected —just think of all the possibilities— we will be much more than a super power —Chetan Komarla
On being asked if e-wallets such as Paytm work for the aam aadmi, he said, many businesses, malls, shops and even small vendors are accepting payments through Paytm. This is an easy, faster, more convenient and secure way to make payment.
“We all have smartphones in our hands and vendors are using Paytm. All we need is to download a free app and load money in wallet online. There is no so much competition to Paytm in the digital wallet sphere. But there are others such as Free-charge and Mobikwik. Then there is National Unified USSD Platform (NUUP). In this, we just have to type a USSD Code: *99# and facilities are provided related to fund transfer using MMID and IFSC through our registered mobile number. No Smartphone is required for this facility and you can transfer money without internet connection. This is an interface that can be used easily by the common man,” Soni said.