Steve Forbes revved up quite a dialogic storm when he point blank opined in his feature how demonetization in India was an immoral move. Harsh at the very worst, the judgment might have been a little too blunt. But it significantly mirrors the common sentiment that echoed off a million other native voices, how could our government possibly push us into this madness and mayhem?
The deed has been done; there are no answers other than Modiji repeatitive warcry, “Black money, black money, cashless economy, counterfeit money, and again, black money”.
But here’s another side of the story, for even in an hour of mayhem we are making progress.
Reports are flowing in from all the corners of the country about our swanky new cashless villages. Yes, that’s right, not towns, not cities, the villages are the ones that are leading the cashless revolution it seems. Good thing, bad thing, it comes almost as a necessary thing at a time when our economy is on the verge of crashing if people are not smart about their money.
Leader of the pack was India’s first digital village Akodara in Gujrat, which swiftly understood that the easier way out, was to rely on their tech savvyness. It was not a big leap for this Gujju village because it was well equipped with all the digital necessities that required this transition.
The real achievement was when Maharashtra announced her first cashless hamlet, Dhasai.
Adopted by the Bank of Baroda in association with the NGO Swatantryaveer Savarkar Rashtriya Smarak, this village decided to shift from the woes of operating on credit in a no cash scenario to a credit card touting cashless economy.
Needless to say this was a delightful development.
Because if a village is going cashless, it indicates that all the villagers have bank accounts and internet access. Amazing, yes?
To realize Modiji’s demonetization dream, most of the major banks, in association many NGOs, are coming forward to adopt villages. The process of adoption include the training of the rural people on cards (Debit, Credit, Rupay), eWallet services, USSD, UPI and other ways that government has implemented to help rural population to go cashless, apart from opening bank accounts for all and providing POS machines to required merchants.
Benefiting from these schemes, Ibrahimpur in Telengana and Khandalavadi in Tamil Nadu had also declared themselves cashless by the end of last year. Chatonguri from Assam, Kuchkut in Arunachal, and so many more are racing ahead to 100% digitization.
Yet, we have to wait till we celebrate with fireworks.
Literacy is not high, therefore skepticism remains.
For instance, in Dhasai the people are complaining about internet connectivity and on how change in smaller denominations remains scarce. You see, it is important that villages be completely digitized before they are persuaded to go all cashless. Villages that have declared themselves as cashless are yet to see the long queues at the bank counters disperse.
The further irony of the situation is how there still are many villages out there which would be more than happy to be cashless but still don’t even enjoy steady electricity or telecommunications. Residents of Popshandi, Ahmednagar, for example, lament how they don’t even earn enough to ever possess a two thousand rupees notes. How can a village that does not have a proper school or a medical center become cashless in a few months?
Added to that is the case of Lanura in Jammu and Kashmir, which was proudly declared as a cashless village after an orientation program to train the locals. Truth is that the nearest ATM is 5kms away and majority of the people have just begun to fill up their bank registrations. Very few own cards, the shops lack POS systems, and the ones using Paytm lack good cellular connectivity.
Namely, a gimmick.
How can such villages be declared cashless vallages then?
On the basis of awareness, a district official assures. The gimmick of declaring villages cashless is therefore to encourage digitization of the economy. Therefore, it is all, if cynically put, boiling down to a coercion of sorts. Even if people are optimistic about the changes and enthusiastic to embrace them, the government has yet to provide with sufficient infrastructure to sustain the development.
That progress is still slow. Modiji was quick to mock Rahul Gandhi’s comment on our country’s illiterate poor by pointing out how it reflects the poor performance of our existing governments, but he himself should not forget about them during his tenure. Is our government considering the lack of prerequisites that will block our development?
We cannot be very sure about it. If we are to become a cashless economy, let’s not be hasty about it. Albeit, it is great that some villages have made such rapid progress, but our country as a whole will progress when there is uniform sustainable development.
It is still too early to pass that verdict.
Views presented in the article are those of the author and not of ED.