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HomeEconomyCash is back in Maharashtra’s first ‘cashless village’

Cash is back in Maharashtra’s first ‘cashless village’

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A year after demonetisation, shopkeepers rarely use swipe machines as many villagers are still uncomfortable with plastic money.

(Dhasai, Thane): About 100 km from Mumbai, three men walked into a small shop, Nagneshi Metal General Stores, Wednesday afternoon, asking for plastic glasses in bulk. One of them took out a fat wad of currency notes. Hesitating a moment before handing over the cash to the shopkeeper, the man feebly asked, “You don’t have a swipe machine, do you?”

Mukund Singh, sitting at the till, shook his head. “The card machine has gone for repairs. It has been almost two months,” he said.

The conversation took place in Dhasai, which the Maharashtra government recognised as the state’s first ‘cashless village’ in December last year in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for a cashless economy after demonetisation. State finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar declared the village cashless at a grand function, praising it for taking the huge step despite there being no specific government regulation imposing a cashless economy. He also set out a vision of taking steps towards making the entire state cashless.

Singh, the shopkeeper at Nagneshi Metal, said, “The enthusiasm lasted for a maximum of two or three months. Now, out of a hundred customers only about 10 ask for a card machine. Earlier, immediately after declaring the village cashless, nearly 80 per cent of our transactions used to be through cards. Our machine broke down and it has been two months since we sent it for repairing. We aren’t really bothering about it because anyway it is hardly used now.”

With the villagers facing a severe cash crunch after demonetisation, Bank of Baroda in association with a local NGO, installed ‘Point of Sale’ machines in almost all shops and establishments of Dhasai, a small village of 3,053 people in Thane district, and spread awareness about plastic money among the villagers. However, a year on, as cash has returned to the system, so has the villagers’ dependance on it.

Laxman Male who owns a cloth shop said he has packed up his card machine and kept it safe inside. “I only bring it out if a customer requests for a card payment. The last time I had to fetch it was almost a month ago. Seventy-five per cent of my customers deal in cash.”

He said most villagers are either engaged in agriculture or do odd jobs and earn their incomes in small cash — Rs 300-500 per day. They have bank accounts but find the task of queuing up at banks to deposit the cash cumbersome. “Government officials or banks should have conducted regular awareness drives even after declaring the village cashless. People should be made to understand that they have the chance of earning decent interest on their savings if deposited in banks,” Male said.

Deepika Sonawne who sells earthen pottery is one such wary villager. Between her and her husband, who drives a jeep to ferry people around from nearby villages, they earn about Rs 500 a day. “We spend most of it on groceries and other necessities and save some cash for a rainy day. I have a bank account but have never used a card in my life,” Sonawne said, adding that even amid the buzz of their village going cashless, she would coerce shops to accept cash and they would.

Dinesh Singh, Bank of Baroda’s branch manager in the area, said the bank made a lot of effort educating the villagers about cashless transactions last year and has conducted several awareness programmes as well, but villagers still have basic inhibitions.

“Many fear if they use their card for payments they will have to pay extra charges. Besides, the overall network in the area is also slow, which deters shops from using the card machines. At times, something that should not take more than three seconds takes up to three minutes,” Singh said.

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