<link rel="stylesheet" href="//fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Open+Sans%3A400italic%2C700italic%2C400%2C700">International finance Archives « Aam JanataSkip to content

7

Growing evidence shows that India is serving interests of foreign influencers at the cost of the well being of Indian citizens. Demonetisation is just one in a long list of moves that benefit big money.

Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, said something interesting when he addressed the Digi-Dhan mela today. He said that Bill Gates told him that more than 100 Cr have mobile phones, 109 Cr have Aadhar cards, digital economy will boom in India.

This had many people puzzled. What does Bill Gates have to do with anything that he's been quoted out of the blue? Why would Bill Gates be the source of information on how many mobile phones or Aadhaar cards are in India for the Finance Minister with access to National statistics? For example the Assocham Deloitte study that says that internet connectivity is still out of reach for 950 million Indians? A few others, who had been paying attention to the news remembered Bill Gates endorsing the demonetisation last month and then denying much knowledge of it and limiting his endorsement to the digitisation of the Indian economy.

But what does Bill Gates have to do with India's demonetisation that he was even asked to comment or endorse it at all or that made headlines on the subject twice and a month later the Finance Minister used data allegedly provided by him to support the viability of this insane venture? 100 crores is 1 billion - in a country of 1.2 billion, with 22% of the population (264 million!) below an absurd poverty line. You'd need to hand phones to babies on birth to get that kind of penetration! That alone should tell you that the number is useless for anything more than propaganda. It is the total number of SIMs sold. Of them "active" - used once a month at a minimum - are 900 million. This number would also include dual SIM phones, SIMs used for non-phone devices (air pollution measuring devices, for example), multiple SIMs used for businesses and so on. This really tells you nothing about the kind of penetration that would allow cashless transactions. Far more accurate statistics with relevance to demonetisation are available for India that make it clear that India has 220 million (100 crore is 1 billion) smart phone users (not all of them have internet enabled).

For that, we must rewind a bit, to something I've mentioned briefly in previous articles and explore it in more details.

Worldwide, as banks fail to manage their money responsibly, we are seeing them flounder. Powerful companies and people writing and influencing monetary policies are encouraging cashless transactions - supposedly to improve the government's coverage for taxation, but in reality, in a country with 70% of its population only owning 10% of its wealth while the top 1% own almost 60%, the cost of digitizing the vast majority of citizens is not even going to be covered by anything that can possibly be recovered from their meagre income that is way below taxable limits. It doesn't take a hotshot economist to know that in a country where 1% of the population pays taxes, the "tax net" is unlikely to get any substantial benefits from being thrown over 100% to see who gets caught. The costs of such an exercise would outstrip any benefits.

What going cashless actually achieves is providing a lifeline to banks by:

  1. Getting most of the nation's money into them and shoring up their failing liquidity
  2. By generating an income for them from the routine transactions of every citizen's day to day living.
  3. Preventing withdrawal of cash from banks by people who want to make more economical choices instead of paying commissions for every use of money.

This happening in India is of a great deal of profit to the global banking elite as well, as credit card services, banks invested in India and other financial service providers generate an income for banks based outside India with their shares of the seemingly small transaction charges on day to day use of money in a country of 1.2 billion people.

There is a great deal of effort put into "encouraging" countries worldwide into adopting cashless transactions by the global financial elite and governments stumped by failing banks and the lure of improved tax collection are capitulating, though none fell as hard and recklessly as the Indian government.

The Quint had correctly reported that the USAID had launched the “Catalyst: Inclusive Cashless Payment Partnership”, designed to scale digital payments systems in India in partnership with India's Ministry of Finance on the 14th of October. This is the press release on the official USAID website. So it is unclear why The Quint updated its article to remove this information and instead add an update that it was initiated jointly by USAID and GOI, but commissioned on the 15th of November as though it didn't happen till it was commissioned. Regardless, this explains what Bill Gates was doing there at all to be commenting on the demonetisation - that should have been a domestic issue. Among the organizations partnering in the Catalyst is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Also included in the list is the UN fronted Better Than Cash Alliance that India joined on the 1st of September 2015. To quote their website, "The Alliance is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Citi Foundation, Ford Foundation, MasterCard, Omidyar Network, United States Agency for International Development, and Visa Inc. The United Nations Capital Development Fund serves as the secretariat."

So, Bill & Melinda Gates, Omidyar Network, Mastercard and Visa participate as themselves as well as as part of the Better than Cash Alliance. USAID participates through the BCA. World Economic Forum participates directly. Many Indian banks, and surprisingly PayTM as well as phone networks are included.

Way before anyone in India articulated a need for cashless payments beyond the normal use for convenience - and there was an existing natural rate of adoption, USAID and its allies seem to have got the bright idea that India needed to go cashless and moved to get India to participate. Not one, but two organizations created in their need to "save" India from itself. One wonders why. The economy was doing well, the government was already undertaking means to improve access and inclusion of more citizens in the banking system - for example, the Jan Dhan Yojana, the expansion of the DBTL scheme (both of which put citizen's money into banks, the second mandatorily) had both been launched before the government joining these groups for promoting a digital economy in India.

Given the catastrophic results of the demonetisation, and the complete absence of consulting with anyone in the country - the government's own economists, RBI directors or security agencies included, it becomes important to ask just who was consulted and the quality of information that was provided and whether it influenced decisions adversely for the country.

There are reasons to believe that there may have been influence against National interest:

  1. Jaitley's direct quote of incorrect statistics allegedly provided to him by Bill Gates, that he used in order to justify the demonetisation at the Digi Dhan mela, even as all statistics of any reputable source point to the opposite. The RBI's data even shows that while the number of card transactions at PoS has increased (out of necessity), the value of transactions has actually gone down, clearly indicating a reluctance to adopt cashless transactions more widely than what was going on naturally.
  2. While in opposition, the BJP itself has pointed out that the CIA works through the USAID programme acting through philanthropic foundations to destabilize countries. There is considerable evidence to support this that BJP were already aware of. USAID has been implicated in covert operations to support subversive activities in countries from Cuba to Pakistan and notably the backing of Al Qaeda affliated rebels in Syria recently.
  3. Ford Foundation grants have in the past preceded at least two major political upheavals in the country - the Janlokpal Andolan and the creation of the Vivekananda International Foundation (which backed it and later ran subversive slander campaigns undermining the newly emerging AAP) were both preceded by grants by the Ford Foundation to their founding members or organizations. The Jan Lokpal Andolan discredited the government then in power. The Vivekananda International Foundation masterminded the rise of the current government, discredited the Aam Aadmi Party that was on the rise and now has an extraordinary number of members appointed to government positions, including the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, under whose "able guidance", India's regional foreign policy has collapsed. There are allegations that he influenced a controversial supercession in the appointment of the next Army Chief.
  4. Contributed by reader Prem A (in comments below): The conflict of interest doesn’t stop there, Dr Nachiket M. Mor is the country directory of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and he is also one of the directors of RBI.
  5. Usual sources of reliable advice and information to the government appear to have been bypassed in this apparently "well planned" demonetisation, indicating that other sources of information were likely used - the government may potentially have been misled to use information that was not in national interest. This needs investigation given the mounting damage being inflicted on the country.
  6. Strangely, neither the government's joining the Better than Cash Alliance, nor the Catalyst were reported in India at all. For a government that proudly publicizes its every sneeze and hiccup that is dutifully given maximum publicity by a subservient media, if this were indeed a move that would benefit India, it is unclear why the Prime Minister would not proudly declare it.

4

Over the last few days, I've had many discussions with various people about going cashless. So far, I haven't met anyone who applied for internet access if they didn't already have or installed a payment app if they didn't already have, contrary to reports in media (which may possibly be largely limited to the metros). Here are some reasons I found out.

Ours is an area that would classify as a town though it has now been clubbed with several other towns into a city. It is close to Mumbai and a lot of people who work in Mumbai but can't afford to live there live here. About half the population is lower middle class and tenants in the properties of people in Mumbai who have purchased flats here as an investment - me too. There are also several people who are quite poor and live in slums and old buildings in small cramped quarters. In other words, there are few people who'd qualify as rich in this area or even well off enough to not care about monthly budgets - perhaps some of the more prosperous shop owners. Our building is probably among the most "posh" in this area and there are maybe 6 cars parked in the compound with a few hundred flats, and 3 of those are cabs.

Note: I am neither for, nor against the use of cashless transactions. It is a useful method for those willing to spend that little bit extra for convenience. It is invaluable for doing online payments and a handy record of spending in bank account doesn't hurt for those, like me, who cannot remember where they spend money five minutes later. However, forcing people to go cashless is extremely unwise, in my view. Regardless, this is merely a disclosure of where I stand and the below are not my views. 

Domestic workers

I spoke with several of these. My regular maid usually gets paid into her bank. Another I hired to help her out financially takes cash. Apart from these two, I spoke with about 4-5 others. Only one of them who was previously getting paid in cash is getting paid by cheque this time (she will be withdrawing the money for use, not spending cashless). Among the others, reasons varied. They found the bank intimidating and cash easy and familiar - is a common sentiment. All but one of the others didn't have their own bank accounts and did not want to deposit their income into the accounts of their husbands or other family members. The remaining one had a bank account in her village, and when she applied for a new cheque book, it got delivered to her village address, so she wants cash till she has a way to withdraw money. Only my maid has a smart phone that is compatible with an app (she didn't buy it, she is using my old one) and she uses it without an internet connection. The phone automatically connects to the WiFi when she comes into range, but she has never shown any interest in using the internet and is reluctant to do it now. In any case, I would never advise her to begin her introduction to the internet with a high stakes thing like payments.

Vegetable vendors

I've spoken with about a dozen of these. Most of them didn't know about apps. I informed them. They don't think their transactions are large enough to afford commissions to receive money on. Additionally, there aren't people buying. No one seems to have asked them if they will accept an app payment, so they don't think there is any point in using it unless people in the area adopt it.

Grocers

Business is very low for grocers, but none of them showed any interest. When people have money, groceries are a priority, and they usually offer credit to regular buyers at such times, so they don't think an app will add any business for them. Like the vegetable vendors, no one has offered to pay them by app so far.

Car mechanic

I spoke with one. Business is down enough to be as good as zero. No work other than emergencies like punctures is happening. No one has offered to pay him by app before, but he would consider it if there promises to be a good amount of business. We speculated on the possibility of vehicle owners being likely to own phones that could install such apps and perhaps trying to pay that way if he put up a board, but he didn't sound anywhere like he was headed for a download. He would have to upgrade his own phone first - it is not a smartphone. Another reason he was reluctant is that he would likely have completed the work first and then if the payment did not happen, he could suffer a loss. I explained that there was very little chance of that happening, but it is unfamiliar tech and he is not internet savvy and I couldn't with any sense of ethics recommend it beyond discussing it as a possibility for the same reasons as my maid - first experience of the internet being payments is asking for trouble.

Garments shop

I spoke with two. Both had near zero business and were very interested in the app. They had smartphones and had even experimentally downloaded after seeing all the ads. However, the problem is that no one is coming to their shops at all. Whether paying with cash or cashless. There are no customers at all.

Housewives

I spoke with several asking if they had considered buying using an app. All of them had some money (one of them having borrowed from me). All of them had priorities and were managing those priorities in the cash they had, which admittedly is very little. None of them were interested in using an app to buy anything. They would rather cut corners and buy when they had the money. Some were making do with dal and pulses and onions and potatoes they could get on credit from the grocer and skipping buying vegetables when they didn't have money, but they weren't interested in installing an app so they could buy clothes - for example.

I am also a stay at home mom, but I am cashless enabled, so to say, so writing my experience separately, because it is different from theirs. I follow news rapidly, and anticipated the problems with cash that would happen, so within the first few days, I had my money converted locally - without paying a single rupee as commission - in medical shops and such. I further withdrew money from ATMs at the crack of dawn to find smaller queues, knowing that people would be needing to borrow as well as my second maid would need a salary. I have cash. There is a Reliance Fresh where I can swipe my card, but I have not used any cashless payment at all since demonetisation, because I believe those unable to accept cashless methods are really suffering for business, so I'd rather spend in their shops.

People with jobs in offices

Most of these in our building are male, but there are a few women too. They mostly seem more inclined to save mone rather than use cards or apps. Most of them have cards. Most of them use cards to withdraw money from ATMs as possible. None of them use cards for anything except withdrawing money from ATMs, though they are aware, and one of them had used cards to make payments before and knows how to do it.

I didn't find any credit card users other than myself in our building and among people I spoke with. One woman whose husband works abroad has an add on card to his credit card for emergencies, but she has never used it. She is also the one who has used a debit card for purchases before.

4

The government began with focusing on fake currencies and black money as the reason for demonetisation. As deposits started rapidly piling in banks and it looked increasingly unlikely that there was a lot of black or fake money being caught, the goalposts started shifting.

Soon it became evident that the supply of legal notes was nowhere near adequate and worse, going by the capacity to print notes, it would take another 5 to 6 months to return the amount of money withdrawn from the country. Then came disclosures of problems with notes, inappropriate prioritization of the 2000 rupee note, which is available relatively abundantly, but without the intermediate 500 rupee notes, only serves to reduce the limited liquidity with the existing 14% of notes left to people.

Suddenly the talk seemed to turn to a cashless India. Government spokespersons on TV as well as Modi himself have given up all talk of black money and suddenly demonetisation is all about a cashless India (which got rapidly ridiculed with comparisons to the cash-less reality) and upgraded to a less-cash India. This is a terrible idea.

Necessity is not utility

If it were useful for India's sellers to accept cashless payments by paying a charge on the transactions, they would already be cashless. The government wouldn't have to recommend it at all. The fact is, cash transactions are highly efficient. They work instantaneously and reliably with no other infrastructure needed - bank accounts, devices, connectivity, electricity to run said devices.... and they are FAST. Taking a note or five from a wallet, handing it over, acceptig change back takes way less time than devices connecting, verifying, blah blah blah. Even swiping a card takes more time. AND unlike cash, you pay a fee every time it is used. Whether it is the buyer or seller charged, the cost will ensure the buyer pays for it. No seller is an idiot.

A few sellers may have adopted these methods in a bid to increase the business the government killed, but it is highly unlikely that they will prefer these methods to cash, if they hadn't found them useful before. A few businesses catering to buyers likely to own cards may continue, but that is an entirely different planet from cashless India.

To give a very crude example:

Bottom line is that cash works. Starving the country of cash will not work because hoarders will hoard and the government will have to issue adequate cash to keep country running. This kind of deprivation will in fact cause more people to hoard. A domestic example (I'm full of them) - before the demonetisation, I'd been a happy mostly cashless user for over a decade. I live in a small town and yet my maid and grocer are paid with online transfers by the month. I very rarely had any cash other than the notes in my wallet which usually ran out and I lived a day or two on simple credit if needed - since I had no daily expenses as such beyond vegetables. Today, I have over 10 thousand rupees in my drawer - because I know I need to pay the other maid (whom I hired merely because she was desperate) in cash in another week or so, but then people will be crowding to draw salaries. I have also kept enough cash at home, because unlike normal times, when I could hop over to an ATM and withdraw when I needed, there is no telling when I may find an ATM with a queue I'm willing to brave. This is happening everywhere. 20 days of banks giving out money the best they can, and our local market looks like this:

People aren't even thinking of spending. They will not spend on anything unnecessary, no matter how much cashless you scream, till they feel reassured that they have enough cash for contingencies. That is going to be a long, long way away.

Inadequate penetration of debit cards

India has 24.5 million debit cards, most of them saturated in urban areas, and people often owning several among those who do. My home for example has two adults and 8 debit cards between us. so 24.5 million being the number of cards is unlikely to be anywhere close to actual card users. Further, cash withdrawals at ATMs is most of the use these cards are put to with 88% of transactions and 94% of the total monetary value of all debit card use. Which brings us right back to cash.

Inadequate penetration and extreme difficulty obtaining credit cards

A few days after demonetisation was announced, I got a call from SBI offering me a credit card. The limit was to be from 30 thousand to a few lakh - I forget details. Interested, I agreed. Ignorant of the ways of credit card companies, I expected that they would estimate my limits by my salary or deposits, etc. Turned out that they blocked a fixed deposit and issued a credit card against it for less than the amount of the fixed deposit. Unclear why anyone would use a credit card at all instead of their debit card, in that case. I got several other offers. Curious about this phenomenon, I replied to the offers with varying information about my income. Unsurprisingly, I found that I had to be rich enough to be able to spend the money directly in order to be able to use it on credit at rates that would put a shady rural moneylender to shame. It makes no sense and I don't think I'll be using that card. I think this option of going cashless is irrelevant to most of India's population - other than the corporate salaried class - got more interest out of them if I said I worked in an MNC - which, let's face it, may be the loudest population of India, but hardly the top empoyment.

Online and mobile banking

Let me narrate here an incident in my home recently. My maid, who pays for her gas in cash and uses her debit card strictly to withdraw money from the ATM as needed, got an SMS from her gas provider saying that she could pay for the gas online. The conversation went something like this:

The fact of the matter is, online transactions are complex and to the internet illiterate are a financial catastrophe waiting to happen. It is far better for people to learn about internet security with Facebook accounts and verifications and email passwords and lost passwords and recovery and hacked Twitter accounts than to begin their internet experience with a high stakes gamble like the contents of their bank account because their government forced them to do it for survival.

Make no mistake, if people don't have cash and get taken in by this propaganda, very soon you are going to have operators of cyber cafes with passwords to a hell of a lot of accounts as aunties line up their with electricity bills and bank slips containing their login ID and passwords in hand to pay the bill so that their electricity is not disconnected or to charge their Paytm account so they can pay their grocer. And they would not have the knowledge of how to change their password either. They would learn eventually, likely with hard lessons that leave them with nothing to protect, and this is not the way to do it. Too much risk.

Literacy rate in India

India's literacy rate stands at 74.04% - but this is an illusion. A lot of "literate" people of poor economic status are barely able to read and rarely in English, which is currently required to transact efficiently online, understand bank statements, secure their accounts, change passwords and PINs and more. Some things like using cards or withdrawing cash from ATMs can be done in Hindi or other languages, but even examining transaction slips and more still happens in English. Internet banking is mostly in English.

Computer literacy is even lower. Smart phone usage may be slightly better, but it is still under 30% of the population.

Electrification and internet penetration in India

I am not even going to talk of percentages here. To go cashless, an absolutely uninterrupted electric supply and internet connectivity is non-negotiable. And, to put it very very mildly, we are nowhere near 100%

Business margins

Business margins over every single transaction are absurd replacement to freely exchanged cash. For high value and infrequent sales, it may make sense. To buy your vegetables, Paytm may earn more than the vegetable seller's profit at the end of the day. Tomatoes are selling at 10Rs a kilo. One kilo is a hell of a lot of tomatoes.

Business readiness

Twitter is currently awash with stories of cashless fails. I had one yesterday. I couldn't find my debit card, so rather than risk it being stolen and misused, I blocked it. Five minutes later I found it. But while I can block it online, I cannot unblock it using the same security available to my entire bank account with access to online banking. If a thief has access to online banking, they don't need to unblock cards, they can simply transfer all the funds out. The bank has my phone, my email AND my access to online banking secured with passwords and OTP, yet something as simple as unblocking a card can't be done within minutes of blocking it and I must go to my home branch 2 hours away. If the card got blocked by someone while trying to pay after two hours of filling a shopping cart, would be a really fantastic cashless experience! This is the country's biggest bank!

If I was in a city and living cashless as Modi recommends, what was I to do? Beg for money to get home in spite of having plenty? Banks like Bank of Baroda or Indian Overseas Bank don't allow online generation of PIN for ATM cards - you must go to the home branch. How is a cashless India even possible with the biggest jugglers of money being so primitive?

Other issues like Paytm account blocking in the event of a lost phone being completely abusrd, to inexperienced sellers charging over a lakh rupees instead of over a thousand rupees accidentally and not knowing how to reverse charges. There are plenty of nightmare stories.

Security issues

Internet banking is a lucrative area for hackers, and India is not extraordinary on security. Just weeks before the demonetisation was announced, an ATM hack had defrauded many people of their money. While banks blocked cards and issued new ones, there is no information on any investigation or arrests made. Or, for that matter, for most cyber crimes beyond "objectionable" content on social media, which is usually busted because of a lack of anonymity - a newbie mistake, no hacker into financial systems will make.

There are security issues with banking apps

I'm just going to paste this here.

 

Forget cashless India. Go pre-dawn to some ATM that gives out Rs 2000 notes - they have shorter queues. Do this a few days and you'll have some cash to use till this nightmare is done.