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58% of rail tickets are sold online: Who says India isn’t ready for e-monetisation?

On 8 December, 2016 while announcing a slew of rebates for encouraging digital payments, the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley gave an interesting statistic----as much as 58 percent of rail bookings are done online. If this is true, India certainly is ready to go digital brushing aside the skepticism of the critics and detractors. He also said since 8 November, 2016 when demonetisation was announced, digital payments have grown at a healthy clip---from 20 percent of the overall transactions to 40 percent.  The 0.75 percent rebate on petrol bunk bills for digital payments is nothing to scoff at just as 10 percent rebate to electronic toll payments shouldn’t be if only to reduce standing traffic at busy tolls. Private insurance players of course would be peeved by 8 percent and 10 percent rebates offered on life and non-life premia by public sector insurers. Be that as it may, the soft digital push comes on the back of hard push i.e. leg-up to swiping machines.

 58% of rail tickets are sold online: Who says India isn’t ready for e-monetisation?

Representative image. Reuters

Banks take their own decisions on installation of ATM machines without needing any permission from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) for this purpose. However when it comes to swiping machines aka POS machines, the call is normally taken by the shopkeepers. But the central government has cleverly shifted the initiative from them to the banks with which the establishments have current accounts. Yes, the government has urged banks to push for installation of swiping machines at retail shops that dot our landscape. To start with, it has urged the banks to install 10 lakh such machines by 31 March, 2016 on a war footing that could be daunting given the fact that the existing number of such machines across the country is only 14.6 lakh. But the SBI alone has volunteered enthusiastically to install 6 lakh machines during this short period.

The Assam BJP government has gone one step ahead and is seriously mulling whether it can make installation of swiping machines mandatory at retail establishments. While that could meet with some resistance and criticism, the central government initiative is an example of government using its persuasive power for the welfare of the nation. Banks after all know what their customers are into. If a customer is a trader, it can always call him over and impress upon him the need for installation of the POS machine at his establishment.

The wheel has come full circle. Come to think of it, banks till recently were supinely and passively offering a service to big retail establishments that they should not have--- deputing their personnel for collecting cash. It sent wrong signals. It encouraged both the establishments and their customers to prefer cash as the prime mode of doing business. And more importantly, it encouraged transactions ‘outside the books’ in layman’s terms because on the flipside bulk of the expenditure was also incurred in cash that often hid the identity of the payees.

POS machines has benefits for everyone---automatic accounting at both the ends -- i.e. the establishment and bank, besides rendering the tedious process of counting redundant at both the ends.  It was an eyesore to witness wads of currency notes tumble out of traders’ untidy bags in front of bank cash counters every morning.

The government must be complimented for converting the current cash crisis born of demonetisation of 500 and 1000 rupee notes into an opportunity to go digital and less-cash. The Congress party calls this rationalisation because it says initially the government called demonetisation a counter to counterfeit notes and black money. But what the heck, emphasis on cards and digital payment comes at the right time. Strike the iron when it is hot. The economy is reeling under currency shortage. Now is the time to change entrenched habits.

The government has waived 12.5 percent basic excise duty and 4 percent special excise duty on swiping machines and is likely to waive of the import duty as well given the fact that bulk of the machines are currently imported.

The Modi government indeed has cleverly dovetailed digital payments with demonetisation. And if it is an afterthought, so what?

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Updated Date: Dec 09, 2016 12:33:47 IST

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