How ready are central government institutions to go cashless?
Be it on a TV channel or on radio, everywhere the Prime Minister is extolling the virtues of cashless economy. The frequency of ads promoting the use of debit and credit cards, net banking and e-wallets is testimony to the massive investment being made by the Centre to realize the idea of a cashless society. In Kolkata, use of plastic money and e-wallets has witnessed a quantum leap following the demonetization, with malls, supermarkets and other retail points recording a spike in non-cash payments.
But when TOI checked alternative payment facilities at large organizations, with huge transactions, they turned out to be woefully unprepared for the switch from the traditional form of transactions.
The counter at the old heritage complex sells tickets, each priced at Rs 5 to Rs 500. In the queue for a ticket to Chandernagore, Narayan Mitra from Falta hoped the clerk would accept his debit card. With Rs 300 in his pocket, he wanted to avoid queueing up at an ATM for further cash withdrawal. But the counter clerk flatly refused to accept the card. “We only deal in cash.Please tender exact change,” she told him curtly.On Thursday, however, the station became the first in the country to have a card swipe machine installed at an unreserved ticket booking counter.Not just tickets, cash is essential to make payments at various kiosks on the platforms. Though the restaurants accept cards, those manning the counters prefer cash.
VP Nikhil, who works at a private firm at Dalhousie, had only Rs 100 and Rs 2,000 notes on him when he approached the counter at the Esplanade station. He wanted a ticket to Kalighat and offered to make the payment from his e-wallet.But the clerk told him he had to pay in cash. When he gave him the Rs 100 note, the clerk did accept it but made him wait while he sold tickets to nine commuters so that he could return the balance. Nikhil missed a train. “The PM is advocating digital payment but central government organizations are still refusing to toe the line. This is shocking,” he said.The station manager said there was no proposal yet of cashless transactions at the ticket counter.
Shankar Prasad Nag had to get two works of art released from the Customs at the Kolkata airport. His niece, Chandrima Syam, had sent the works to London at the invitation of Indian High Commission for an exhibition in November. After the show ended, the paintings were sent back. When Nag went to collect them at the airport, the counter staff said he would accept cash only. “The Customs deals in goods worth crores and collects duties of several lakhs. I expected it to be among the first to embrace cashless payment. But they said there was no card facility and I would have to use e-banking or pay by cash,” Nag said. Customs officers claimed they had installed swipe machines at places but they accepted only debit cards after objections from the Auditor General of India’s office.
Since these are for central government employees covered under insurance, patients need not pay over the counter.But cash is the only mode when it comes to certain transactions, such as paying for extra medicines and bandages. There is yet no provision for accepting cards or e-wallets.”As our patients don’t need to pay big amounts, we don’t need alternatives. So far, we have not had problems,” said an employee at the main desk of ESI Hospital, Manicktala.
Jiban Krishna Das, a retired executive, offered to pay through his mobile wallet for postage stamps at a south Kolkata post office last week. He was turned down. Das then took out his debit card but
the staff at the counter sniggered: “Do you see a swipe machine here?” Taken aback, the 60-year old asked, “Is this how the government wants us to go digital?” Hundreds have been queueing up at post offices to exchange and withdraw money.But for every purchase, you must pay in cash only.Ironically, post offices are running out of cash faster than banks, but stay closed to alternatives.