THREE MONTHS after the government chose Surakhpur to start their endeavour to make it “fully digital payment-enabled”, and, in turn, cashless village, elders grudgingly admit to the impossibility of the task. “Cashless toh ho hi nahi sakta. There has to be some cash for smaller transactions,” said 78-year-old Sultan Singh. However, listing out the modes of e-payment and cashless transactions they have been taught, Singh, like many other residents, lauded the government for choosing the small Jat-dominated village of around 1,000 residents in Najafgarh for its cashless scheme. “The government trained us to use our ATM cards at the two kirana shops and shop or transfer money through e-wallets,” he said.
Officials say Surakhpur, with 113 households, is the first Delhi village to be “100% digitally-enabled. But the government’s endeavour came in February when the travails of demonetisation had started ebbing, which meant it was of little help. Nothing changed in this village, residents said, with half its population comprising farmers like Singh sticking to cash payments and the other salaried half using debit cards and e-payment, sparingly, in cases of emergencies.
Sitting in a room which once housed an ATM, the farmer said: “Borrowing and lending is common among friends and relatives. Who is going to wait for 15 days for a bank loan when a friend can lend money immediately?” The closest ATM is around 4 km away in Najafgarh market. Most residents carry entry-level cell phones without features that smartphones provide. The only ATM in the village, installed by Bank of Baroda, residents said, was shut a year ago because people did not use it.
“Every initiative introduced here is rolled back because there are so few people,” said 32-year-old Karmveer Singh, a driver for a private cluster service.
Lack of facilities was why the Delhi government picked Surakhpur. “It was selected because it has no ATM, and the nearest bank is a few kilometres away,” sub-divisional magistrate Anjali Sehrawat had said.
The only option of a cashless experience is the use of PoS machines at two provision stores. Suraj Singh, owner of one such store, pulls out a PoS machine district officials gave him in February. “Over the past one month, I have swiped ATM cards only 30 times. The machines were given long after demonetisation. So, not many people took to it.”
Most of the time, he said, the device does not work because of weak reception — the nearest cellular tower is over 3 km away. Talking to The Indian Express, Sehrawat said, “Mobile connectivity is an issue. We have written to telecom companies to consider installing a tower in the village but no one has responded yet.”