IT IS seven days since the Indian Bank ATM kiosk, the last one on the southern edge of India, downed shutters. Elsewhere, half-a-dozen ATM counters remain closed. One month into demonetisation, the currency crisis is far from over in Kanyakumari. But traders, hoteliers and other stakeholders in the tourism industry and local fishermen are warming up to the idea of a cashless economy. Slowly, but definitely.
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After an initial panic, says State Bank of Travancore’s assistant manager T Arathi, customers are asking about netbanking, or are coming to clear doubts about online transactions. “We have asked traders with current accounts to try POS (Point of Sale) machine. A few fuel outlets have already got those machines and switched over,” Arathi says.
But it’s nowhere near normalcy yet. Considering tourism is the mainstay for Kanyakumari, refilling of ATMs is extremely important. “In the last one month, we have refilled the ATM less than 15 times. The branch has had to be closed down for want cash on many occasions,” Indian Bank’s manager S Vimal says.
Business, say hoteliers and others related to the tourism sector, has been hit severely. As currency is not available at ATMs, many domestic and foreign tourists skipped the destination, they say. This is the pilgrim season at Kerala’s Sabarimala hill shrine, and pilgrims from Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have usually included Kanyakumari in their itinerary. Not this time, locals say.
C Sadasivan, manager at Sea Face hotel, says, “Business was down by nearly 40 per cent compared to November last year. And there are few bookings for the New Year period. Most hotels here are medium-range, and do only cash transactions. The ATM crisis had hit our industry.”
The numerically strong fishermen community, meanwhile, has been filling banks’ coffers with scrapped currencies.
At Indian Bank, 7,000 of 12,000 accounts are of local fishermen. “In the last one month, our branch received nearly Rs 7 crore in scrapped currencies – most of that deposited by fishermen. It’s an eye opener that they kept such large amounts in cash,” a bank official says.
While Margarete, from a fishing family, says they depend primarily on cash transactions, demonetisation has forced the community to try other options. While some have begun issuing cheques to regular customers, many are getting bank accounts for an ATM card.