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Why it’s barter or cash in this ‘cashless’ Ambala village

Three villages, with a combined population of about 5,000, have only one bank and no ATM.

Written by Vinod Kumar | Ambala |
Updated: December 29, 2016 9:17:27 am
demonetisation, demonetisation news, india demonetisation, demonetisation india, india news, demonetisation effects, rural india, india news Teams were sent to train villagers on e-payments. (Express Photo by Jaipal Singh)

Chamanlal, 28, a barber in Bara village, does not have a debit card and has never seen a point-of-sale (PoS) machine. He charges Rs 20 for a haircut and Rs 10 for a shave — all in cash. He is among the few in the village who has a smartphone, but has never used it to make e-payments. He does, however, use it to watch videos.

Just three days ago, local MP Rattan Lal Kataria (BJP) declared that Bara and the neighbouring villages of Durali and Ugara in Ambala district had become “cashless”. He made the announcement at an event organised by the gram panchayat of Ugara village.

But Chamanlal says he is not aware about the new tag. “I am taking cash from my customers,” he says. “How can our village go cashless? Nobody has any cards here with which to make online transactions”.

The three villages, with a combined population of about 5,000, have only one bank — an Allahabad Bank branch. There is no ATM in the area.

Bara has a population of about 2,500 — half of them are literate. There are around 20 shops, none of which have a PoS machine. But the sarpanch, Vikas Behgal, has ordered shopkeepers to stop accepting cash. He has told villagers to go back to the barter system till they are able to make cashless transactions.

“They should accept cash through mobile banking and e-wallets till they get PoS machines. We have asked people to look for alternative ways of making payments, such as barter system, if they don’t have access to cashless modes of payment,” says Behgal, a businessman in his 30s.

However, nobody in the village is following his order.

“How can a village become cashless when most of the residents are illiterate and don’t even have smartphones,” says Shiv Dayal Sharma, 79, a retired army man who owns a grocery store. He has not applied for a PoS machine. “What’s the point of getting a machine when the villagers don’t have debit cards,” he says.

It is the same story in Ugara village, which has a population of about 1,400 with a literacy rate of about 55 per cent. The village has five shops — none of them have facilities for cashless transactions.

Darshan Lal, 48, a shopkeeper, says he has never used a debit card. “The concept is good, but it will take time to pick up in villages as there are so many constraints,” he says. “We don’t have electricity supply for 8-10 hours everyday. How are we going to charge the PoS machines,” he asks.

Jaswinder Singh, the sarpanch, says the panchayat has applied for PoS machines and asked the bank to provide debit cards to all the villagers.

In Durali village too, none of the four grocery stores are equipped for cashless transactions.

Last week, before the villages were declared cashless, the district administration organised a two-day training session on how to make cashless transactions.

But Jasbir Kaur, 65, who attended the session, says she did not understand anything. “Hum mehnat, majduri karne wale log hai. Hume kya pata Paytm aur ATM kya hota hai (We toil hard for a living. What do we know about Paytm and ATM),” she says.

Mamta, a shopowner, says the team sent to her village downloaded the Paytm app on her husband’s cellphone, but the family is yet to use it. “He is a government employee and comes home only on weekends,” she says.

Members of the teams sent to train and spread awareness on e-payments say they found it difficult to explain the concept, especially to the elderly. Pointing out that most of the villagers were unaware about ATMs, debit cards and mobile wallets, Dheeraj Kumar, who led the team in Bara village, says “it’s very difficult to convince them”.

While Deputy Commissioner Prabhjot Singh was unavailable for comment, District Information Officer Vishal Gulati said the sarpanches of Bara and Durali proclaimed that they were “cashless”, and that Ugara was in the process of submitting its self-certification too.

When contacted, MP Kataria said he did not know that these villages lack the required infrastructure to switch to cashless transactions. “I was not aware of the ground reality,” he said.

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