Patunagar in West Tripura district was supposed to become a digital village or DigiGram, but exactly two years after demonetisation this village of around 4,000 residents is anything but one.
Shortly after the Centre’s demonetisation move in November 2016, the then Left Front government convened a meeting of the State Level Bankers’ Committee (SLBC) at which the United Bank of India (UBI) decided to adopt Patunagar and Hatipara villages to test its plan for digital villages. These two villages in Mohanpur block 10 Km from Agartala city were supposed to be exposed to Point of Sale (PoS) machines for transactions and training of mobile banking techniques.
Two years on, while beneficiaries of government schemes like MG NREGA are paid through Direct Bank Transfer (DBT) and public works via cheques or digital transactions, Patunagar is not really the cashless economy it was supposed to become. While UBI tried to popularise digital banking, the villagers didn’t take well to the new technologies. Most have not yet seen a point of sale machine and there is still not ATM in the village. “We have ATMs in Nutannagar and Gandhigram villages nearby. If needed, people from our village go there,” says housewife Minati Saha, who doesn’t even know what a PoS machine looks like.
The village is mainly inhabited by labourers, farmers and workers. There are around 300 families with government employees. “I think demonetisation was a good decision. I haven’t incurred any loss. But this village has not become cashless,” explains Achintya Bhowmik who works for the Tripura State Electricity Corporation Limited (TSECL).
Parimal Das has an account in the Tripura Grameen Bank (TGB), but confesses that with his meagre income, that too paid in cash, there isn’t much to save in the bank. “Contractors don’t get their bills from the government. They leave the work midway and we wait till it resumes. Meanwhile, there is very less work to do and I am finding it very hard to manage,” he adds. Shopkeeper Nandu Paul reasons that villagers still prefer cash. “We have very few transactions a day. What will I do with machines to process a transaction of Rs 10?” he asks.
Though the then Left Front government under Manik Sarkar was not so happy with demonetisation, the public sector Tripura Grameen Bank ordered 200 PoS machines and started setting up over 200 micro ATM outlets across the state. The micro-ATMs, which didn’t need its users to be even smart-phone literate, are able to dispense cash through fingerprint verification aline.
Tripura Grameen Bank GM Maniprasad Hazra says while digital transactions have increased manifold in the state, PoS transactions and digital wallets are yet to become popular in rural areas. “POS machines are used by businessmen who have a certain load of transactions to handle,” he adds.
UBI had identified 73 of the state’s 1039 villages to extend DigiGram facilities in a phased manner. However, the plan didn’t fly. Regional manager Mahendra Dohare says PoS transactions increased 20 times in shopping malls, retail outlets, fuel filling stations in Tripura after demonetisation. But the rural areas paint a different picture. “The volume of transactions in villages is relatively less and POS devices weren’t of much use. We have held a series of awareness campaigns and shall continue to do so. But there is a lack of awareness among them,” Dohare adds.