Cash-free drive in Dha­sai

Mint Asia ST - - Cover - BAY BHIRAM G HADYALPATIL

Anant Bhoir, a 46-year-old farmer from Dha­sai vil­lage in Ma­ha­rash­tra’s Thane district, opened an ac­count with Bank of Bar­oda four months ago just so he has a backup op­tion to his Vi­jaya Bank ac­count. Plus, he was su­per ex­cited at the prospect of us­ing his ATM card at the smart-look­ing Bank of Bar­oda Ex­press kiosk in­au­gu­rated in June by vet­eran anti-cor­rup­tion cru­sader Anna Hazare.

On 2 Novem­ber, when Bhoir went to the kiosk to check his sav­ings ac­count bal­ance, it said: “Trans­ac­tion not al­lowed”. This has been the re­frain these past four months. He has learnt from ex­pe­ri­ence that the same in­ter­net ser­vice provider serves both the Vi­jaya Bank branch and Bank of Bar­oda kiosk—sta­te­owned Bharat San­char Nigam Ltd or BSNL.

So what does he do? He goes back to Vi­jaya Bank, fills up a with­drawal slip, takes a to­ken, and awaits his turn in the queue.

At the bank’s Dha­sai branch, of­fi­cer Ravi Gaik­wad is used to ne­go­ti­at­ing long queues of ac­count hold­ers like Bhoir. “BSNL in­ter­net is down as usual. If you go to the BSNL of­fice, you won’t find a soul there who can at­tend to these daily com­plaints. The story about cash­less Dha­sai is for all to see here,” Gaik­wad says.

Dha­sai went “cash­less” on 1 De­cem­ber last year amid much fan­fare in the wake of Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s 8 Novem­ber de­mon­eti­sa­tion an­nounce­ment. To­day it is back to its old ways of deal­ing in cash.

Back in De­cem­ber 2016, even a road­side shack sell­ing snacks boasted of an Elec­tronic Data Cap­ture (EDC) ma­chine that Bank of Bar­oda dis­trib­uted free of charge then. In fact, the bank gave away 50 such EDC ma­chines in the vil­lage.

“The ma­chine has not been used for more than two months now. Peo­ple give cash be­cause they have cash now. Why would peo­ple want to swipe a card when they have cash and when they know that the ma­chine won’t work be­cause net­work is down,” asks shack owner Vi­jay Sukose, who got an EDC.

Sal­man Sayyad, who runs a meat shop, says his ma­chine has gone for re­pairs. “Soon af­ter note­bandi (with­drawal of Rs500 and Rs1000 cur­rency notes), 70% of my sales were ex­e­cuted on the ma­chine. But its us­age dropped to 15% by Au­gust when it de­vel­oped snag,” he says.

Sayyad adds that the idea of go­ing cash­less will work only if all agen­cies—bsnl most prom­i­nent among them—work to­wards it.

Dha­sai sums up the quin­tes­sen­tial In­dian way of do­ing things with great fan­fare only to undo t hem l ater. If i n De­cem­ber 2016 it en­thu­si­as­ti­cally joined Modi’s “cash­less” and “dig­i­tal” drive and at­tracted nationwide at­ten­tion, a year later the ex­er­cise hardly mer­its men­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to Ran­jit Savarkar, chair­man of the Ma­ha­rash­tra Mil­i­tary School near Dha­sai and the main agent of change last year, “It is like keep­ing the milk con­tainer on the stove and then step­ping out to buy tea and sugar. Things have fallen apart be­cause the right se­quence has not been fol­lowed. Last year when the gov­ern­ment was keen to showcase Dha­sai as a cash­less vil­lage, I told them to put in place a sys­tem first so that other things fol­low as a log­i­cal corol­lary. But that has not been done for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons.”

Savarkar be­lieves the Dha­sai story has not turned out the way it should have be­cause of the dearth of imag­i­na­tion on the part of banks and gov­ern­ment agen­cies like BSNL as well as the ab­sence of fol­low-up ac­tion.

“They can still re­deem the sit­u­a­tion by is­su­ing as many debit cards as the num­ber of ap­pli­cants. Debit cards will en­able not only Dha­sai res­i­dents but trib­als who live in 60 ham­lets around Dha­sai to ac­cess the Bhim app. And for Bhim to run ef­fi­ciently, they must pro­vide wi-fi at least in se­lect lo­ca­tions,” Savarkar says.

Bhim or Bharat In­ter­face for Money app, launched on 30 De­cem­ber last year, en­ables users to send and re­ceive money over the Uni­fied Pay­ments In­ter­face (UPI) plat­form.

He pro­ceeds to trans­fer a small amount to gro­cery shop owner Swap­nil Patkar’s ac­count us­ing the Bhim app. Both Savarkar and Patkar run the app us­ing their mo­bile data net­work.

“Mo­bile data does not work in in­te­rior parts and that is why wi-fi should be pro­vided. Imag­ine a tribal woman get­ting the re­mu­ner­a­tion for the for­est pro­duce she sells di­rectly de­posited into her ac­count. That will give her ac­cess to her money which, if given in cash to her hus­band, mostly gets wasted in drinks. Give her a debit card and ac­cess to Bhim app and she would be on her own,” says Savarkar, who thinks some smaller pol­icy in­ter­ven­tions like these and a con­certed tech­no­log­i­cal push could per­ma­nently make Dha­sai a cash­less but also help nearby ham­lets use dig­i­tal trans­ac­tion.

Patkar, pres­i­dent of Dha­sai’s re­tail mer­chants as­so­ci­a­tion, says 60 of the re­tail es­tab­lish­ments had been is­sued EDC ma­chines. “But very few are us­ing them now. The real cul­prit is the net­work prob­lem. BSNL only has to only ex­tend the broad­band ca­ble 3km from nearby Um­roli vil­lage but that has not been done for two years now,” he says.

Ashok Warghade, branch man­ager of Thane District Cen­tral Co­op­er­a­tive Bank, says the net­work is­sue should have been sorted out to en­sure Dha­sai con­sol­i­dated the gains it made dur­ing the ini­tial months of de­mon­eti­sa­tion. “Of our 27,000 ac­count hold­ers who are from nearby vil­lages, 2,500 have ATM cards. We have also is­sued 3,000 Ru­pay cards. But due to net­work prob­lems and avail­abil­ity of cash, peo­ple don’t tend to use ATM cards. Also, there has there been no rise in the num­ber of ap­pli­ca­tions for debit cards,” he says.

Dha­sai res­i­dent Ra­jen­dra Joshi mocks the vil­lage’s “cash­less” tag, say­ing it was true just for the month of De­cem­ber. “Gov­ern­ment agen­cies and peo­ple who are at the fore­front of this ini­tia­tive are well aware of all the prob­lems. Net­work prob­lem also pre­dates de­mon­eti­sa­tion. But at least af­ter the vil­lage was de­clared cash­less, all agen­cies and elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives should have worked to­gether to ad­dress the prob­lems and ready Dha­sai for dig­i­tal trans­ac­tions. But noth­ing has been done by way of fol­low-up and things have gone back to their de­fault setting,” he says.

Savarkar, who re­mains hope­ful that the “cash­less” dream can be re­al­ized, says all the train­ing and aware­ness that lo­cals car­ried out in schools on cash­less trans­ac­tions will go to waste if stu­dents are not kept in­vested in the project.

“Now, banks come up with all sorts of rules... That stu­dents can­not be given debit cards and so on. What use is mere the­ory if stu­dents are not al­lowed the prac­ti­cals,” he asks, stand­ing in front of a poster from 2016 which hails Dha­sai as Rokhmukt gaav (cash­free vil­lage).

ABHIJIT BHATLEKAR/MINT

De­fault setting: A res­i­dent of Dha­sai counts cash he with­drew from an e-kiosk.

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