My Delhi Visit Post Demonitization

I was visiting Delhi two weeks post government’s demonetization decision and wanted to assess the mood of Delhi. I had flown to Delhi from Bangalore in a night flight. Airport looked its usual self except I could spot an ATM from the long queue it commanded. I rushed to the prepaid taxi booth to find a gentleman arguing with the booth in-charge officer to take his Rs. 1000 note. The officer would have none of his argument as he thought the note was fake. Luckily for me my fare was Rs. 300 and I had 19 fresh notes of Rs. 100 which I had withdrawn a day earlier from ATM located in my office. I on-boarded a black & yellow taxi. The driver for a change didn’t curse his luck for getting a short trip after hours of waiting in the line. I tried to strike a conversation with the driver but he wasn’t a talkative one so I mostly stared out the window. It was that time of the year in Delhi when a balmy winter had just set and Delhi was all decked up for marriage season. Road was however mostly deserted with an occasional queue of people that I spotted at an SBI atm. To my surprise I found the shutter of many other ATMs down on an otherwise busy street.

I had come to Delhi to attend a marriage. It was heartening to see that cash crunch had not impacted my host. Decoration was simple though elegant and delicacies offered ranged from Punjabi tadkas to the Bengali fish curries. But disappointingly only a fraction of guests turned up for the wedding, probably this was due to the cash crunch on their part. I too seriously contemplated writing a cheque to the newly weds rather than parting with 10 of the remaining 16 precious notes of Rs 100. But luckily better sense prevailed. One more group that got impacted was the actual workers such as flower guy, tent guy and caterers as they had to miss out on tips as in the end the host had no cash to dole out to them.

I ubered my way back to airport and as usual started talking to the cab driver. This one was a talkative one and we off course started talking on demonitization. The driver said that he has a bank account in SBI but hasn’t gone to the bank in a long time. He had money in the bank but had been borrowing from friends to get by for the last ten days. He didn’t want to loose hours by standing in the queue and miss out on his income. He had been mindful of changes in his customer’s behaviour and had ready stats. He said that earlier 70℅ of rides were paid for in cash but now 90℅ folks were paying digitally. Then he said something which made me realize that forcing unsalaried class to go cashless can be cruel on our part. We salaried class gets our salary in our bank account and then digitally transfer rent, emi, utility bill or credit card bill. But folks who earn daily wages in cash, we cannot expect them to keep visiting bank branch on regular basis to deposit their earnings. India will go cashless when most of us start digitally paying to each other and specially to the unsalaried class. All wages, be it monthly or weekly have to be directly paid into the bank account. Any party not making digital payment will create friction in the system and stop us from moving to a cashless economy. It is equally imperative to educate the uneducated on credit management, online fraud prevention and various hidden fees of digital transactions.

My trip to Delhi definitely left me with much food for thought that I could digest at that very moment.

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