‘Digital’ village asks what’s netbanking

Surakhpur, declared ‘fully digital payment enabled’ by government, rues low literacy, poor connectivity

February 09, 2017 01:16 am | Updated 01:16 am IST - NEW DELHI:

Around 10 days ago, a team of Delhi government officials handed over two PoS (point of sale) machines to kirana (grocery) store owners Surat Singh and Ramesh Kumar, both residents of Surakhpur village in Najafgarh, on the Delhi-Haryana border.

The officials taught the two how to use the machines. On Wednesday, when The Hindu visited the village, where the front walls of most houses are plastered with cow dung cakes, it found Mr. Singh’s machine “safely” locked inside a drawer in the shop. Mr. Singh (60), who runs the store his wife Raj Kor, said, “I run a small shop. People come here to buy basic items and the bill amount is usually low. For other necessities they go to ‘Delhi’.”

‘Who will bear cost?’

He said initially some curious customers tried to use the machine, but now there were hardly any requests for online payments. Mr. Singh does not know who will pay the Internet charges for the machine whose plastic cover is still intact. Also, the Internet connectivity is poor in Surakhpur. “Most of the time the server is down,” he said.

The approximate population of Surakhpur is 1,500 and the nearest bank and ATM are around 3 km away in Mitraon village. This effort to promote cashless transactions in Surakhpur started on December 26, when Sub-Divisional Magistrate Anjali Sehrawat, along with her team, inspected the area. A camp was set up and people were asked to get their Aadhaar cards made and fill up forms for opening bank accounts. “The purpose was to ensure that in each household at least one person has a bank account. Surakhpur was chosen for this pilot project due to its less population,” said Ms. Sehrawat.

Two workshops

The officials held two workshops at the chaupal, a meeting place for the elders, and taught the villagers about netbanking and e-wallets. LED screens were installed for the demonstration. After providing the PoS machines and opening bank accounts, the project was over.

On Tuesday, the Delhi government officially declared Surakhpur as the first village in Delhi to be “fully digital payment enabled”. But most residents here, particularly the women, are clueless about the project.

The literacy rate in the village is low and not everyone uses a smartphone. Meenakshi, a 22-year-old mother of two, said she had never been to a bank. “I don’t think any woman here knows how to withdraw money from ATM, leave alone making payments through phone.”

Like Meenakshi, most of the women The Hindu spoke to said they did not have bank accounts or smartphones.

Ajit Singh, a retired central government employee, was surprised over the announcement.

“How can they declare our village cashless or digital when the work hasn’t even started,” he said.

Water woes

Another resident, Amit Kumar, said he doesn’t know if Surakhpur is a “cashless” village, but it is definitely a “waterless village”. The residents still rely on water tankers despite a pipeline being recently laid. The villagers said the piped water is contaminated.

Some residents even contested the claim that each household has a bank account holder. A resident, who didn’t wish to be named, even wrote to the Prime Minister Office on January 16 after the bank in Mitraon village refused to open the accounts of 19 residents whose documents weren’t in order.

Even Ms. Sehrawat accepted that there was still a lot of work to be done in the project. She clarified that Surakhpur is not a “cashless village” as reported by the media. “The literacy rate is poor and network connectivity is low. Our main aim was to provide infrastructure, which we have. Now it is up to the people to make payments digitally,” she said.

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