One whole month has passed since the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Since then, the Union government has aggressively pushed several policies to make India a cashless State.
It has also rolled out and back several provisions to ease the impact of currency shortage on the common man. On Wednesday, for instance, the government claimed that it had re-calibrated 95 per cent of the 2.2 lakh ATMs in the country.
However, Express journalists visited 647 ATMs across 13 cities in the country and found that about 69.7 per cent of them are still non-functional. This suggests that the consequences are a result of inadequate planning, an observation that the government has vehemently denied since the beginning.
Considering major metros across the country are still struggling for cash, the plight of people living in smaller towns and villages - which have relatively fewer number of ATMs and bank branches, is expected to be much higher.
For instance, among all the ATMs we visited in three major cities of south India - Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai - the number working ones were less than eight per cent. Hyderabad topped the list of cities with the most number of non-functional ATMs. Among the 50 ATMs we visited, 49 of them had no cash or were out of order. Interestingly, the situation was better in relatively smaller cities like Thiruvananthapuram and Bhubaneswar.
And as people continued to scurry for cash, the government on Thursday announced its ambitious 11-point agenda to incentivise digital transactions and thereby accelerate India’s transition to a cashless State. “The government is targeting for at least 70 per cent of daily sales to be through the digital mode,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said, adding that the aim was also to reduce cash exchanges at petrol pumps by nearly Rs 2 trillion annually.
While the push towards cashless economy could bring a few benefits, the abrupt shortage of currency would upset several businesses, especially in the informal sector, and thereby the economy in the short-term.