Residents of Misirpur village near Varanasi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency, are willing to support the PM’s ambition to create a cashless society.
Take Asha (she uses only her first name) for instance. The 70-year-old runs a tea-stall in Misirpur, about 12 km north of Varanasi, with her son, selling samosas and other deep-friend snacks along with sweet, milky tea. Asha cannot read, write or trace, but she has adopted cashless transactions quite easily. In the days following demonetization, Asha and her son started accepting payments through a point of sale (POS) machine issued by the local branch of Bank of Baroda.
Asha’s tea-stall is a popular hangout for villagers, and that’s not just because she makes a good cup of tea. Asha and her customers do not squabble over payment or loose change anymore. More importantly, she does not have to sell on credit to the many who have made a habit of it. ‘Will pay tomorrow’ is no longer an excuse. “People used to sip tea, eat snacks and walk away saying ‘likh lena’ (write it down). Now I have this swipe machine,” says Asha. “Every time a customer says ‘I don’t have change’, I pick up this machine. I am very happy.”
Asha’s son Panna, who helps her make samosas and pakodi snacks, says with the POS machine, accounting is much easier than earlier. The fear of losing cash while carrying it home is gone, he says.
Kailash Yadav, the headman of Misirpur, says there are 35 shops in the village and 21 of them have started using POS machines now. “The ATM card was hardly used before note-bandi (demonetization). All of us walk carefree with a debit card in our pockets,” says Yadav. The village has some 4440 residents who mostly depend on agriculture for their livelihood.
The manager of the Bank of Baroda branch in the village, Manish Pathak, says his bank has taken on the responsibility of making the village cashless. His bank, the only one in the village, is giving POS swipe machines free to the shopkeepers of Misirpur.
The bank does not levy a service charge for transactions made. Pathak says that the bank may start taking a cut later but, for now, villagers are enthusiastic using plastic money.
The illiterate Asha, who has been selling tea and samosas for about 30 years, says she did not initially believe the bank’s staff that payments would go directly into her bank account. “I never even knew of plastic money. It is the bank which made me and other people of my age walk with time and technology,” she says.
“If people in Delhi and Mumbai can use debit/credit cards , why can’t Misirpur villagers? Modiji has done a great thing. We are with him,” she insists.
Yadav, the headman, says villagers are keen to learn of newer technological modes of making payments. They are aware of the virtual wallet and other payment options available on the Internet.
“A young college going boy from a neighbouring village told me about UPI (United Payment Interface, a banking system that simplifies transfer of money) and BHIM app. I have not used them but will do so in the future,” he says.
Experts say there is no question that swiping a card has its advantages but unreliable infrastructure will always pose uncertainties. “With frequent power cuts, poor connectivity and internet connection in rural areas, the reliability of such a system is a question,” says Harish H V, Partner at consulting firm Grant Thornton. “The infrastructure needs to be strengthened.”
Asha, meanwhile, has another worry. With cash becoming more easily available in the system now, she is afraid people will go back to using cash, and she will no longer be able to benefit from the convenience of using a POS machine.
(With inputs from Amit Singh, a Varanasi-based journalist.)
The 'Tech Meets Bharat' series brings to you stories on how technology is impacting and changing lives in hinterland India.