December 14, 2016
Cyclone Vardah dented digital money transfer drive and swept away plastic money too as Cash proved its power again
Even two days after Cyclone Vardah, its victims in Chennai and neighbouring districts are stuck in a situation where they do not have cash and their plastic money cannot buy a thing – as technology shows its limitations in the face of a natural calamity. For sure, something that Prime Minister Narendra Modi or his advisers did not factor in when launching a major economic action since Independence – demonetisation.
The upshot of demonetisation and the accompanying cash shortage and rationing was felt by the cyclone victims – often the salaried, middle-income group and professionals – as they hunted for ATMs that dispensed cash, a restaurant that accepted plastic money or digital money transfer platforms such as PayTm and the like.
All because of a simple reason. The cyclone ripped through cables and infrastructure that facilitated digital cashless economy with wind speeds accelerating to some 140 kmph just after it made landfall on Monday afternoon, causing internet services that drive many money transactions to go on the blink. Even telephones stopped working and mobile telephony took a major hit, turning smartphones into dumb and dead instruments.
The upshot is that cash returned as king, in a poor advertisement of the cashless digital economy that Modi and his team is building.
“Natural calamities ought to have been factored in and a mechanism put in place as a standard operating procedure just like disaster management plans,” said V Srinivasan, a private sector employee in Mylapore here.
“I have been trying to fill petrol in my car and have been to six bunks so far, without luck. It seems cards are not being accepted anywhere as the servers are down,” he said, adding, “This is the situation that the government should guard against.”
How much ever anyone wishes cash away, it continues to remain king, as it was only those with cash who could make essential purchases.
Cyclone Vardah and its aftermath have once again highlighted the importance of cash, in a note of caution to the government to make haste, but slowly in the pursuit of a cashless economy. It is a desirable objective to impart greater transparency to the system, but it is more important to guard against disruptions that can create further havoc in the lives of the people, said an Economics Professor from a government college in Chennai, preferring not to be identified.
Kamesh (name changed) was so far happy to have stood in queues doing his duty toward the nation and contributing to the fight against black money. But now he is not so sure, as he saw black money erupting everywhere, even in Chennai. In fact, there seems to be a flood of black money as IT raids unearthed huge sums of new currency notes from T Nagar here, the biggest single haul in the country so far at over Rs 100 crore in cash – old and new currency notes.
Internet and mobile telephony that are to power the digital drive towards a cashless economy have shown their limitations. If the government has the interests of the common man in mind, then it should be a judicious mix of cash and plastic money, the Economics Professor said.