A reality check in PM Modi’s cashless society

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On Saturday, just as light showers relieved Mangalureans of their sweat, caused by more than just the heat of the sun, I was for the first time a part of a cashless reality show, one I had seen only on television. I had visited the Big Bazar supermarket - the malls are only place where cards can be used to buy groceries and other small value items - and piled up a bill for necessary and unnecessary things of Rs: 1200 odd. Like others, I stood in the queue to make my payment. I had Rs 750 in cash and the balance I hoped to pay by debit card.

The lady ahead of me in the queue ran up a bill of a similar amount and proudly produced a Rs 2000 pink bill to pay for her purchases. The guy at the counter explained that he did not have change. She was sent around to other counters to collect change – Basically it was her problem, not theirs. In the meanwhile, the cashier took up my trolley and made out my bill for which I explained I would part pay in cash and part pay via card. He accepted my proposal and took in hand my cash and input the same into the pos terminal. He then took my card to bill the balance. But the server was down by that time and his POS was stuck. He could not open it and could not close my bill. At this point I suggested to him to return my card and my cash and I would leave the stuff I proposed to buy at the counter as it was getting late. Already half an hour had gone by (The Government says we must be patient, so I was, believe me. I am very obedient that way). By this time the lady who had been running around for change came back and demanded her change. Despite my protests, having already taken my cash into account for part payment of my bill, the cashier handed over all I gave him to her. She packed her bags and left thanking her stars for the small mercy.

But I was stuck. Several people came and went, trying to solve the problem of the locked POS. Finally after another half an hour went by, they brought a key and opened it and returned my cash to me. Thankfully there was that exact amount in the cash till. Till today I have not been able for the life of me to figure out why the cashier did not hand over the change in the drawer to the lady who preceded me but made her run around the entire shop looking for change! Or for that matter open the locked POS with a key when all else failed in the first place.

Sadly we want plastic to replace paper through an electronic device which does not work because the system is so bad and unreliable. The cart before the horse? Or just part of our Chaltha hai attitude?

My reality check did not end there. Today I had been to a bank to collect a cheque book. They asked me to give a written request with all details for the same, this when all details are already available in my account opening form! While that in itself may not be much of an inconvenience, it is certainly a waste of time, but they had no time to look into it or just wanted to be doubly sure in the current environment of suspicion. Be that as it may, what happened to the person ahead of me was to the say the least, disturbing. She submitted a form, I’m not sure for what, after which she was cross questioned about her signature and asked to sign in front of the officer again, before they accepted it was hers! She seemed quite disturbed to be treated like a common criminal.

While I commiserate with the bank staff – they are apprehensive about being asked to answer for anything amiss, they have become so suspicious that they do tend to go overboard. Can we blame them? No. In fact we must commend them for their patience and perseverance in the face of severe stress. But in today’s nasty environment, everyone is a suspect – Whether you are bank staff or a bank consumer, you are first a criminal and must prove yourself honest, that’s the feeling one takes home these days especially when it comes banks, money or for that matter any transaction. Apparently the only honest guys in this nation are those that knew about the decision to demonetize before it was announced. None else. Truly a sad commentary on the way the entire exercise – good or bad – was handled.

A cash rich society to a less cash society – the RBI plans to print only 50% or a little more than that of the demonetised currency – to a cashless society where PayTM, Visa, Master Card and Aadhar cards rule the roost is where we are headed I learn from the newspapers and the Television. It’s an ideal being touted by the Government of the day to justify its demonetization drive, the others being a digitalized world, where paper – whether it is currency or a government file is present more by its absence, and environment unfriendly plastic and electronic trails of correspondence and expenditure prevail.

Maybe the move also coincides with the Paris convention on Climate Change which India ratified on Gandhiji’s Birthday this year as the forests will be saved, and the earth exploited to create this world of plastic. A tough compromise, but then it was a tough decision – so say those in the know! This is not withstanding Wikileaks and the Kremlin’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s correspondence relating to the Trump-Clinton presidential race.

A good move or a bad move is difficult to say at this point, but the manner in which it has been handled in this age of information and technology – without sensitivity or preparation is shocking. A case in point is a WhatsApp question I received – It asked if the RBI or the government had made any new announcement post demonetization over the last ten minutes, as for the last ten minutes he had been in the shower and was out of touch with happenings in the country! This question in reference to the frequent announcements about limits and legalities over the past 24 days! It is also not clear if the demonetization exercise and its objectives have been thought through fully – especially whether India is reasonably well prepared literacy, infrastructure and logistics wise for this transformation. But I guess like all things – this too shall pass and we will find a new bogey!

 

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