On the northeastern edge of India’s financial capital, with seven days to his pay day, sheet-metal worker Mahadev Vanjari, 50, declared that the cashless economy was not for him.
This is the conversation that followed.
Vanjari: No, this is (cashless transactions) not possible. Even cheque transactions are difficult, let alone cashless transactions. Paytm, and other things, I will not understand.
IndiaSpend: But why exactly?
Vanjari: Because I cannot understand that.
IndiaSpend: The Reserve Bank of India and other banks are now introducing new softwares and mobile apps for money transactions. Do you think you can use them?
Vanjari: No. I have no idea about these apps. And whatever the case, it is not possible for industry workers like me, who are barely educated, I have studied till the 10th grade. You see, the lack of a proper education makes it difficult.
IndiaSpend: But if you get training on how to use it, will you?
Vanjari: That is a far-fetched thing, but for now, it is impossible.
Twenty three days into #notebandi–as the scrapping of 86%, by value, of India’s bank notes is colloquially called–IndiaSpend met numerous workers in the small-scale industrial units of Thane who were either reluctant to follow or ignorant of the Prime Minister’s exhortation to move to cashless transactions. They were struggling with finding change–which they needed to buy vegetables and other daily needs–for the Rs 2,000 note, and the few who had accounts said they were spending half a day per week withdrawing the money they needed.
This working class at what was in the 1960s Asia’s biggest hub of small industries, the Wagle Industrial Estate, represents 450 million workers in more than 20 million small-scale units nationwide. Their pay day falls between December 7 and December 10, 2016, and their predicament is this: Owners are ready to give salaries in cheque, but most workers–who earn between Rs 8,000 and Rs 10,000 per month–said they did not have active bank accounts, did not know how to use electronic banking and did not want to.
Most of the workers we spoke to wanted their salaries in cash, but owners–who supported #notebandi but faulted its implementation–no longer had access to such cash. Some workers said colleagues had gone to banks to open accounts, but none of the workers we spoke had had opened an account over the last three weeks. A few already had bank accounts and said they primarily used them to store money, withdrawing what they needed.
While 80% of Indians use mobiles, a quarter or less are connected to the Internet, Nikhil Pahwa wrote in this Medianama analysis. About 450 million low-income workers, except those who are young and mobile-app literate, in the informal sector are likely to be unprepared for the move to a cashless–or less-cash–economy.
We storified our tweets and videos from the Wagle Industrial Estate:
The withdrawal limit of Rs 24,000 per week is enough for an average middle-class family for a week, and there are no complaints from customers, Vivek Kulkarni, branch manager at State Bank of India’s industrial estate branch in Thane told IndiaSpend.
(Waghmare is an analyst with IndiaSpend.)
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