ON DECEMBER 27, Malappuram District Collector Amit Meena transferred Rs 5 each digitally to accounts of 27 persons in Nedumkayam, and declared it India’s ‘first cashless tribal village’. Nedumkayam’s digital interaction began and ended with that.
The declaration was made as part of ‘My Malappuram, My Digital’ project, envisaged to make Kerala’s Malappuram the first cashless district in India. Nedumkayam, with its 400-odd population of the Paniya tribe, was provided WiFi to facilitate online payment using the SBI Buddy app in smartphones, and then trained how to use it.
A week later, WiFi is available in only around 10 houses close to the community hall where the modem is installed, that too after 8 pm when the tribals return from work and the building is opened. Since the building has no power connection, supply is provided from a nearby house.
The tribals, however, are not bothered, for, as they say, they get daily wages which they hardly ever put into bank accounts. Of the men in the colony, only three are salaried employees, working as watchers with the forest department. Two others do the same job for daily wages.
Most of the men depend on the forest department’s nearby timber depot for work, which they may get once a week and which fetches them about Rs 1,000.
The more pressing issues for them, the tribals say, are drinking water and toilets. Kerala was declared an ‘open defecation free’ state by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan under the Swachh Bharat Mission on November 1, the state formation day.
N Rajaneesh, 27, who works as a forest watcher for Rs 400 a day and from whose house power for the community hall is sourced, says they have been demanding a drinking water facility for years. “All of us go to a nearby river to fetch water. During the daytime, our women cannot go to the river as tourists bathe there. We can draw water only after 5 pm. During the rainy season, we are forced to drink the dirty water, after filtering it using a dhoti,” he says. His family has seven members, including his parents and two children.
Of the 103 houses in Nedumkayam, only 15 have toilet facilities. Families in the rest of the houses depend on the few common toilets or go in the open, to the nearby teak plantation.
Pointing to a two-room, incomplete house, Rajaneesh’s wife Rashmi says seven of them share the space. “During the night, if we don’t store water at home, we cannot use the toilet,” she says.
Swapna, 20, who is aspiring for a government job, says, “Introducing cashless transactions won’t change our lives. Let the government first bring toilets so that women can at least defecate safely.”
The state government has a housing scheme for the homeless, but that requires them to have minimum three cents of land — they are given Rs 2.50 lakh in instalments to build houses thereon. Many tribals don’t have the land to apply for the housing scheme.
“Applications for new houses have been moved but the government hasn’t cleared any,” says C Manu, who works with the forest department as a watcher and earns Rs 400 a day.
Collector Meena admits Nedumkayam doesn’t have basic facilities, but claims it was selected for implementing cashless transactions as many of the tribals here have Aadhaar-linked bank accounts.
Most of them have accounts with the Kerala Gramin Bank at Karulai, located 3 km from the colony. Others have accounts in Nilambur, a municipal town 15 km away.
“I have asked the local panchayat to provide toilets and water. We will monitor the developmental activities at the colony,” Meena adds.
However, Kuttan, 38, a daily worker, who lives at one end of the colony, says having bank accounts doesn’t prove anything. Kuttan has a bank account, but can’t recall when he last visited his branch at Karulai. “I have no savings. I am paid for the daily work by cash,” he says.
Kuttan adds that he hasn’t heard about a digital revolution coming to Nedumkayam. “Many men in the colony get one or two days’ work in a week. We are paid in cash. I don’t see any chance for cashless transactions,” he says.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines