Late afternoon this past Monday, a farmer asked Sunil Kumar for a box of Dhanzyme Gold — an organic manure derived from sea weed. Kumar lifted the small box from a metal shelf and handed it over. A Rs 100 bill, two Rs 10 bills and a Rs 5 coin were exchanged. Kumar dropped the money into a drawer.
In Nangla Hareru, the first village in Uttar Pradesh to be declared “cashless” last winter, Kumar is the seed and pesticide vendor, the banker, and the village “recharge man”. The three things are linked in this village, roughly 30 km from Meerut, where villagers sat through a 15-day camp by Punjab National Bank in December to go “cashless”.
This is one of the three “digital” villages The Indian Express visited, six months after demonetisation was announced on November 8, 2016.
The village has a population of 6,000 and two mini-ATMs. “Only 30-40 per cent of the village is currently cashless,” Kumar said. He has, for three years, run PNB’s mini-kendra on the main road. “The problem is connectivity. The internet crawls here on mobile phones. So people come to me to recharge their phones instead of doing it online.”
But people did go “cashless” for a brief period: soon after the demonetisation drive.
Even Satyaveer Singh, the samosa vendor, had put up a board. His customers were allowed to transfer money through the ‘PNB Kitty’ e-wallet that they had downloaded on their phones. But as cash became readily available, folded notes began appearing in villagers’ pockets.
It was the Jan Dhan Yojana that first brought debit cards to this village. “When Jan Dhan accounts were opened, everyone got cards but nobody collected them,” said Fareed Rizvi, a resident. “It was Sunil (Kumar) who would make announcements and try to convince people to collect the cards but in vain. So he ended up returning at least 50 per cent to the bank. But after note bandi, people went to the banks and collected them.”
Kumar agrees that the Jan Dhan Yojana made his village lucrative enough to be chosen for the “cashless” programme. “Many people already had debit cards, the village was on a main road, there were micro-ATMs installed and people had android phones,” he explained. “But if you have to stare at a screen to load for 10 minutes, you will lose interest in doing anything online.”
He did try to get 3G connectivity, often writing to the senior staff of the telecom provider that services his village. But to no avail. “I am tired of making efforts. We were chosen to go cashless, a seminar was held to teach us how, but we don’t even have 3G connectivity,” he said.
Electricity is available for 16 hours a day, up from 12 hours, he said. Under his desk, new SIM cards lie piled up. When the data pack works on his phone, he transacts entirely online.
It’s in Nangla Hareru that the word “ATM” is used instead of “debit cards”. “ATM use karne se log darte hain,” Rizvi said.
“We recently heard of someone getting scammed and losing over a lakh. Since then, many people, especially the old and illiterate, have been wary of online transactions,” he said. “But at least the women go to Kumar’s shop for their banking work. Much easier than travelling to Mawana, which is a fair way off.”