Vir­tu­ally There

India Today - - MAIL - SALONI CHAUHAN, Patna RA­JESH JUNEJA, Gan­gana­gar P.A. JACOB, Mus­cat

One of the gov­ern­ment’s main jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for de­mon­eti­sa­tion was to in­duce a na­tional shift to­ward dig­i­tal trans­ac­tions (Bank­ing on E-Cash). This is pos­si­ble only when the coun­try has high in­ter­net speeds and ro­bust cy­ber se­cu­rity. In­dia lags be­hind Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in terms of download speeds and tops the world in terms of cy­ber crimes. Many In­di­ans are wary of dig­i­tal trans­ac­tions for fear of be­ing hacked, or theft of per­sonal data. The gov­ern­ment needs to frame ef­fec­tive laws to pro­tect on­line con­sumers if it wishes to re­alise its goal. Oth­er­wise, the idea of a cash­less econ­omy will prove to be the “fool­ish utopia” de­scribed by for­mer fi­nance min­is­ter P. Chidambaram. Al­though In­dia’s young pop­u­la­tion is will­ing to em­brace new tech­nol­ogy, poor in­fra­struc­ture and a lack of pro­tec­tion from cy­ber crimes means that de­mand­ing an overnight switch to cash­less trans­ac­tions is equiv­a­lent to throw­ing peo­ple into deep wa­ter and ex­pect­ing them to learn to swim. Some may do so, but oth­ers will sink. It would have been bet­ter to bring in this change grad­u­ally—to give peo­ple time to adapt to the new sys­tem be­fore adopt­ing it. The gov­ern­ment’s ini­tia­tives to­ward a cash­less In­dia could be seen as a pro­gres­sive step, pro­vided ev­ery cit­i­zen can make use of such fa­cil­i­ties. Cash­less trans­ac­tions are easy and con­ve­nient. But it is a her­culean task for the gov­ern­ment to bring all cit­i­zens un­der the ‘dig­i­tal um­brella’. The grim re­al­ity is that mil­lions in In­dia do not have ac­cess to elec­tric­ity or the in­ter­net, and are il­lit­er­ate. The idea that pos­sess­ing a mobile phone is enough to go cash­less is naive. The gov­ern­ment it­self seems un­cer­tain of how to en­sure that mil­lions of un­der­priv­i­leged folks gain ac­cess to such mod­ern ways of do­ing things. The shift to a dig­i­tal econ­omy will be worth noth­ing un­less ev­ery cit­i­zen can en­joy the fruits of de­vel­op­ment. The cen­tral gov­ern­ment has un­nec­es­sar­ily forced cash­less trans­ac­tions on con­sumers, who will, in all like­li­hood, be cheated be­cause of the mal­prac­tices ram­pant in the sys­tem. If the gov­ern­ment were sin­cere about de­vel­op­ing a cash­less econ­omy, it should have con­cen­trated on elim­i­nat­ing cash in the whole­sale trade rather than pro­mot­ing the new in­dus­try of mobile pay­ments. How­ever, to clamp down on black money hold­ers, the plan to print more Rs 2,000 notes should be scrapped, and there should be no more Rs 1,000 notes ei­ther. It is also a mat­ter of con­cern—one that should be probed—that while

com­mon folk waste hours in long ATM queues, there is ab­so­lutely no short­age of new cur­rency in whole­sale mar­kets! SUB­HASH CHAN­DRA AGRAWAL, Delhi

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