IT IS a familiar sight by now. A long line of people are waiting outside the State Bank of India (SBI) branch in Bucharwada, in Diu, the tiny union territory located off the south coast of Gujarat. One woman claims that she has been waiting since 6 am. At 11:30 am, the iron-grill door of the bank remains locked.
A few kilometres away, there are similar queues outside the SBI’s Wanakbara branch. Three policemen stand guard, trying to keep the crowd in check. The lone ATM in the building is not functioning. It is the same story at the other banks too.
Earlier this week, Union Minister of State for Home Hansraj Gangaram Ahir “commended the UT administration for taking the initiative to make Daman and Diu the first cashless region of the country”.
But a visit to the ground shows that it still has a long way to go.
While Diu is a popular watering hole for tourists from dry Gujarat, only one of its 200-odd bars has a Point of Sale (PoS) machine, according to office-bearers of the Diu District Liquor Association (DDLA). About 60 bars run by hotels accept online and cheque payments, the rest depend on cash transactions.
“We have applied for two PoS machines, and the banks have assured that they will be delivered early next month. Till then, we have to continue to deal in cash,” says Shyamji Vaishya, owner of Royal Wine Shop in Bandar Chowk.
Vaishya, who is also DDLA secretary, is one of the main liquor wholesellers in Diu. He says his wholesale business too depends on cash payments. “While hotels don’t make cash payments, the smaller bars still deal in cash. About 30 to 40 per cent of the payments that I receive is in cash,” he says.
At Deepee Bar, which is the only one with a PoS machine, 20 per cent of the transactions are in cash. “People from rural areas pay in cash… But those who drink costly brands pay by debit or credit card. While we have had this machine for the last two years, cashless transactions were very rare before November 9,” says its owner, Hardik Sheth.
At ‘Honest Enterprise’, a general store nearby, cash transactions are the norm. “I submitted an application to SBI for a PoS machine 25 days ago. But bank officials say it will take time. Accepting cheque payments for small amounts is inconvenient,” says its owner, Imran Vora.
Bipin Shah, the owner of ‘Suresh Stores’, a hardware and paints shop in Main Bazaar, says nine out of 10 transactions are in cash. The rest is in cheque, usually for high-value transactions.
At the ports department’s parking lot, the parking fees — Rs 10 for bikes, Rs 100 for trucks — are only in cash. “Who will give me a PoS machine for collecting such paltry amounts,” says Kamlesh Bamaniya, who runs the parking space.
At the Diu Craft Mela, which began on December 19, none of the 20-odd stalls have the infrastructure to facilitate cashless transactions. “We have a contract with Diu Tourism, and so have to set up a stall for this mela. We are earning about Rs 3,000 per day, while we have to pay about Rs 800 to the organisers,” says Gandhinagar-based Rajnibhai Shantilal, who has set up a stall.
At the lighthouse at the historic Diu Fort, Jagdish Rajput, a photographer, offers to click photographs of tourists and give instant printouts, for Rs 30 per copy. “I don’t know anything about card payments or Paytm,” he says.
The residents — a majority of them are fishermen — say they are a long way from being cashless. “For every fishing trip, I need at least Rs 2 lakh. Diesel and ice are available through cheques. But we need at least Rs 50,000 in cash to buy ration and other provisions for eight fishermen who go out to sea. On the other hand, the traders are paying me only through cheque since November 8,” says Ashok Bamaniya, whose father owns a fishing trawler.
Three days ago, Bamaniya, stood in the queue outside the SBI branch in Wanakbara for two hours, but gave up after coming to know that the bank was giving only Rs 4,000 each.
But Nirjay Kumar, assistant branch manager of the Central Bank of India branch in Main Bazaar, says there is no cash shortage. “We have received 13 applications for PoS machines from hotels, bars, general stores etc, and we’ve forwarded the requests to our regional office in Rajkot. Online transactions have increased by around 10 per cent since November 8,” says Kumar.
Raja Charaniya, who owns two fishing boats, says his son makes frequent trips to the bank for cash. “Many of my 30 workers are from states like Maharashtra and don’t have bank accounts. There is no other way to pay them but in cash,” he says.
Diu municipal council president Hitesh Solanki says teams are training people in digital transactions. “These teams are educating fisherman, grocers, auto-rickshaw drivers, and owners of provision stores among others,” he says. But for now, big hotels and restaurants are the only ones accepting cashless transactions.
It is the same story in Daman. With about 85,000 migrants from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Odisha and Maharashtra, who live in rented rooms and work in textile and plastic factories and liquor distilleries, some labour intensive industries are struggling to go cashless.
Daman District Collector Vikram Singh Malik admits that over 80 government departments are still using cash. “We have sought help from the central government. We have started an awareness drive, through door-to-door surveys, and also held meetings with different organisaltion like the Daman Wine Merchants Association, Local Traders Association, Vegetable Markets Association, and Auto-Taxi Association about going cashless. Our duty is to create awareness, but we cannot force them,” says Malik.
Daman has about 60 liquor shops and over 260 bars and restaurants which serve liquor. Mahesh Patel, president of the Daman Wine Merchants Association, says only outsiders who buy at least a crate pay by card. “There is a shortage of PoS machines. The consumers are mostly industrial workers, residents and tourists from South Gujarat,” he says.
Deputy Collector Karanjit Vadodariya says there are nearly 535 PoS machines which are operational in Daman. “The change will not come overnight, but we are progressing,” he says.
Satyendra Singh, who owns a textile factory, says he has opened bank accounts for 400 workers. “Earlier, we would make cheque payments to the labour contractors, who would then withdraw the cash and distribute it,” he says.
Daman and Diu Administrator Praful Patel admits there is a shortage of PoS machines, but adds that “less cash is cash less”. “We have contacted almost all the families and educated them about cashless transactions. We have educated people about United Payment Interface and how they can make payments through their cellphones. Most of the people have debit cards and they are responding. For example, all the 60,000 electricity consumers have paid their bills through cashless transactions,” he says.
— With inputs from Kamaal Saiyed in Daman