Can Jharkhand become India’s first cashless state?

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Jharkhand is one of India’s poorest states and yet aspires to be first in the country to go cashless — if one is to believe Chief Minister Raghubar Das.

However, given the state of power, internet connectivity and other related infrastructure in the state, the idea looks more like a pipedream than anything that can become a reality any time soon.

The state is also known for its difficult geographical terrain, with the majority of its 3.3 crore (2011 census) population living in rural areas — and that too below the poverty line.

None of the telecom service providers in the state provide internet speeds of 2 MBPS despite the claims of providing speeds up to 5 MBPS. Be it private companies like Airtel, Vodafone or Aircel, or the state-run BSNL, they have all failed to provide high-speed internet services so far.

While Airtel and Reliance Jio have launched their 4G operations in the state, one wonders what miracles these services would provide given that 2G and 3G speeds are disgustingly slow, .

The number of mobile phone users in the state stands at 1.59 crore, but they suffer for want of good connectivity. Many of these users live in rural pockets and villages where the access to internet is negligible, to say the least.

To top it all, as of now only 1,427 panchayts in the state have access to broadband, while 4,459 panchayats do not have the broadband or internet facility — something that is almost a precondition for successful accomplishment of the Digital India initiative.

Lack of adequate power supply is also cited as one of the prime reasons for hindrance in internet connectivity in the state.

Since Independence in 1947 — Jharkhand was a part of Bihar and was hived off as a separate staste only in 2000 — power has reached only 38 lakh homes in the state and there are still 30 lakh unlit homes.

Coming to banks, of the 2,900 branches in the state, nearly 70 per cent are located in rural areas or smaller towns. They, of course, have core banking facilities but unavailability of internet, WiFi or broadband connectivity renders them as good as not being there at all.

An official of a leading state-run bank pointed out that connectivity was their biggest problem, because of which at least 30 per cent of the branches remain paralysed.

“The dream of cashless Jharkhand would only be realised if internet connectivity improves in the state. On several occasions, this issue has been put before the Chief Minister,” a bank official told IANS.

Even in the state capital Ranchi, one can frequently find a ‘link fail’ board hung outside ATMs and bank counters, mocking at customers.

Another factor is that most of the app-based payment services work on Android-supported smartphones that are available with, and used only by, the youth in cities and urban pockets, but many beyond urban areas can’t afford such devices.

So, how will the state government first make Android-based phones available to the people and then train them in their use remains a question without a satisfactory answer.

With Jharkhand grossly unprepared to embrace the cashless concept, let alone becoming the first cashless state, the Chief Minister and his team should have first worked towards putting in place the basic requirements for this.

But, surprisngly though, Chief Minister Das has urged the people to contribute to make Jharkhand a cashless state by December-end. He also launched the “Cashless Jharkhand” campaign from the state capital, saying: “Small steps lead to big goals.”

He urged the people to make more and more use of IT, which would help curb corruption. A cashless economy would also help tackle terrorism and extremism, Das said.

The Chief Minister said: “In the entire world, digital transactions takes place and the people of Jharkhand should contribute to make it a cashless state.”

He also urged every youth to train at least five people in carrying out cashless transactions.

In another key decision, the state government has decided that VAT would not be charged on smartphones priced at Rs 5,000 and also on debit/credit card swipes until March 31, 2017.

The VAT exemption of 5.5 per cent on smartphones and 14.5 per cent on PoS machines has been introduced to promote cashless transactions in the state.

Nityanand Shukla / IANS

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