Nearly one in three rural persons newly enrolled on electronic payment systems under the Centre’s outreach programme for digital transactions in the hinterland — the DigiDhan Abhiyan — has registered on the Alibaba-backed mobile wallet Paytm. Compared with the 28.92 per cent share of Paytm in the total rural citizens registered under the scheme since its launch, the adoption of the government-backed Unified Payment Interface (UPI) and Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) schemes was cumulatively just over 20 per cent, the government data showed.
Under the Abhiyan, launched on December 9, village-level entrepreneurs of the Common Service Centres (CSCs) — launched by the government as a strategic cornerstone of its Digital India programme — organise workshops, where bankers and other stakeholders are invited. These entrepreneurs explain various modes of electronic payments to rural citizens.
According to the information provided by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), as on December 28, a total of 1.05 crore citizens in rural areas of the country had been brought on-board various digital payment tools during the period, of which the biggest chunk — 30.34 lakh — were on Paytm. Among the 2.98 lakh merchants enrolled, 82,746 merchants in rural areas enabled under the scheme to use digital payment tools were on Paytm wallet.
“There is some mode or the other in order to have a digital payment transaction. Some of them have got Paytm downloaded into their system, some of them use USSD, some use UPI, so that is also recorded saying that this person who came and attended has been enabled in this format,” Dinesh Tyagi, CEO of CSC e-Governance Services India Ltd, told The Indian Express. CSC e-Governance Services India Ltd is a special purpose vehicle created to operate and manage the 2.25 lakh CSCs in the country.
On being asked why was there a skew between the number of people and merchants enrolled on Paytm and other government-backed platforms, Tyagi said: “We give them every choice, we do not insist on any one of them. Whichever (option) the citizen chooses is his choice. He decides which he feels is more comfortable to deal with. We don’t insist, we show them all… that these are the various mechanisms in which you can show the digital payment transaction, and then he decides. If he has a feature phone, he can actually do a USSD, he can’t do anything else”.
According to the format, the village level entrepreneurs, while registering merchants under the programme, have to conduct a transaction verification. Under this verification process, as per the manual on the programme’s website, the entrepreneur transfers Re 1 to the merchant, and the merchant then transfers the Re 1 back to the entrepreneur. Interestingly, while the manual has listed the bank account details for net-banking or USSD transaction, and a phone number for wallet transactions, it shows the QR code option only for Paytm.
After Paytm, among the rural consumers, the State Bank of India’s wallet SBI Buddy was the second most enrolled tool at 19.58 lakh beneficiaries. Even as wallets were the biggest draw among the target audience — over 60 per cent of the rural citizens who enrolled for digital payments under the scheme preferred e-wallets, while the combined adoption of UPI and USSD stood at 20 per cent followed by net banking options at 10 per cent — all the other non-bank wallets such as FreeCharge, MobiKwik, Oxigen, Airtel Money, Vodafone m-Pesa, cumulatively had 21.99 lakh users registered on their platform under this scheme, much lower than the 30.34 lakh on Paytm. The government’s own Aadhaar Enabled Payment System (AEPS) recorded just 3.71 lakh users.
The trend in the merchants registered through DigiDhan Abhiyan was also similar. More than 75 per cent adopted mobile wallets, while UPI and USSD comprised 13 per cent share of adoption. The points of sale (PoS) used for making debit and credit card payments saw relatively lower adoption with only 74,581, or 0.71 per cent, users, and 1,071, or 0.36 per cent, merchants enrolling with this option.