“JUST” learning to live during the pandemic!

Vijay Yadav* is a small time vegetable and fruit vendor who has been carrying out his business in Mumbai since 2 decades now.  Ever since the lock down, in our apartment complex, he is one of the suppliers of fresh vegetables and fruits. Twice a week, we place order over WhatsApp to him and he delivers the same at the parking lot of our building. He informs us the due amount on WhatsApp and we pay the amount due to him through Google Pay.

22nd Aug, 2020 was Ganesh Chaturthi. Due to the current pandemic situation, we couldn’t go to the local market for Pooja related shopping (different types of Flowers, Garland…) on the eve of the festival. When we were wondering what to do, Meena*, our regular flower seller informed us to our pleasant surprise that she will home deliver whatever flowers and items we need and asked my wife to send the list over WhatsApp. On the 21st evening, the list was delivered at our ground floor. She informed us the amount and we made the payment to her through PayTM.

On 22nd Aug was also our Avani Avittam (Janeu changing ceremony) for which our regular Cheenu vaadhyar (bhatji) sent us the YouTube link to join him. From home, we completed the rituals and promptly sent the Acharya sambavana thro Google Pay.

In between we had to consult for a routine ailment with our Homeopath doctor.  We did the same over phone. He said he will send the medicines to our house within 1 hour. He has a tie up with Swiggy and the medicines were delivered at our doorstep. The doctor gave his UPI id for transferring his fees, which we did.

What is common in all these? It is that we and the other parties involved were able to carry on with life even during the lock down period without stepping out of our place, fairly smoothly. And if you look at it closely, this was made possible through a combination of Smart phones, Bank accounts (to which we could transfer the money) and more importantly the UPI platform through which we could transfer money real time into bank accounts of beneficiaries.

It was Dr. Arvind Subramanian, Ex-Chief Economic Advisor to the Government of India who in his 1st Economic Survey document coined the term – “The JAM Trinity” and said that the potential of Jan Dhan Yojana, Aadhaar and Mobile phone could be harnessed to plug subsidy leaks and ensure a more targeted delivery to those needy.  This was the beginning of Modi’s 1st term during which, the government gave a huge push to opening Bank accounts for the poor through the Jan Dhan Yojana and also advocated the use of Aadhaar for identifying the needy.  However, in the aftermath of Covid-19, I would tweak the JAM Trinity and say that it is the “Quad of JUST” which is helping to keep the bottom of the pyramid afloat during the pandemic.

If you look at the examples I have provided at the beginning, you would realise that even with the unexpected strike of the pandemic, what has been sustaining at least some fraction of the economic activity is a combination of

J (Jan Dhan Accounts) – through which we could transfer money to beneficiaries who are not so privileged like Domestic helps, small time vendors and so on.

U (UPI Platform) – without which money transfer to bank accounts through mobile wallets like Google Pay or PayTM for example, couldn’t be so easy and swift.

S (Spectrum) – as in the advent of 4G which has made data usage cheap and ubiquitous in India

T (Technology) – Without which all these would not have been possible at all.

In this four, I would like to focus on the UPI bit. United Payment Interface (UPI) developed by National Payments Corporation of India was launched in India in April 2016. But it was post the Demonetisation that UPI as a tool got its fillip in terms of adoption and usage. Just look at the numbers. From just 21 banks who were part of UPI in 2016 when it was launched, today it is more than 140. The transaction volumes have grown exponentially from 2.06 mn. in Dec 2016 to 1.49 bn. in July 2020. And in terms of revenue, it has gone up from Rs. 13.17 crore to Rs. 29.05 Lac crore in the same period!!

It’s been so much of a runaway success that Google (which is part of the UPI through its GPay product) has written to US Federal Reserve Board urging it to build a similar faster payment service platform in the US citing the case study of UPI.

As documented very well by Shankkar Aiyar in his book, The Accidental India, in post Independent India, almost all of the successful economic transformations happened as an answer to a crisis. Similarly, the success of UPI in India also, could be pointed towards the cash payment crisis situation that resulted due to Demonetisation in November 2016. While Demonetisation might not have yielded the originally intended objective of the government namely to suck out the black money from the system, I feel that it has delivered or still delivering other positive outcomes.

Among the top is the formalisation of the economy which is a Work in Progress. The huge success of UPI has made conducting business smoother and easier even during lock down times even for the micro business community. At the same time, the added benefit is the expansion of the formal economy where less and less transactions happen through cash.

The last few months ever since the pandemic struck, have been testing times for any country and its economy.  It’s my feeling that after the initial complete lock down phase of two months, Indians have accepted the reality and have started looking at ways and means of getting on with their lives even without any dole from the government in the form of cash support. Purely from the stand point of micro businesses, they have all tried to adapt their business models to at least survive and stay afloat. Accepting orders through WhatsApp, doing home delivery and equipping themselves with online payment options are some of these adaptations. And these may very well stay even after the pandemic is over. In that sense, while the media commentary (when not busy with Sushant Singh’s death that is) could be around doom and gloom due to Covid in India, the common man has learnt to live during the pandemic with the “Quad of JUST” and will to survive.

Postscript: Way back in November 2016, in the aftermath of Demonetisation I had written a post titled Cash Mukt Bharat (Read here) where I had fantasised of an India where cash transactions have reduced completely by 2025. We are in 2020. Looks like many things mentioned in that post have already become a reality.  Amen.

*All names changed.

Pic courtesy: Yourstory.com

Cash Mukt Bharat!!!

  • The neigbourhood vegetable bhaiyya Yadavji is still going strong negating all predictions that the organized retail will swallow the likes of him. Organised retail didn’t quite swallow him. But he is now a fringe player of that organized retail. I pick up the weekly need of vegetables and fruits. His son who is in his early twenties, quickly totals up the bill in a handheld POS (Point of sale) device and lets me know the amount. He then sends me a request for the payment using his UPI (Unified Payments Interface) App on his smart phone. I approve the same and the payment gets credited to his account.

  • Adi Ganesh Store which was a popular shop in our neighbourhood In Mumbai catering to the typical needs of the South Indians (Read as Filter Coffee powder) is now Adi Ganesh Super market. They now accept payments in credit cards even for purchases under Rs. 100.

  • At the Guruvayurappan Temple nearby, the Hundis for coins and cash have been replaced by plastic card swiping machines where all donations can be made and receipts received.

  • Our family physician DrPurab is still the smiling self and fit as ever. He continues to give his own medicines but one can pay his fees through credit card.

  • The “Old paperwala on call” still comes promptly to collect the old newspapers. He now has a tie up with the Big Bazaar chain of stores and gives Big Bazaar cash cards for the paper taken.

  • Almost all auto rickshaws are now part of some aggregator or other and are accepting payments through mobile wallets.

  • The Domestic help handed over a card which had the details of her bank account number to which she requested the salary be transferred.

  • It looked like that the benefits of JAM (Jan Dhan Yojana/Aadhar/Mobile phone) which had threatened to be just a great theory has become a reality.

I realized that India in Jan 2025 is not the same in more ways than one as it was in 2017 when I left for abroad.  But I am surprised first, impressed next and fascinated finally by the transformation of a country in the area of financial inclusion and the transition to almost a Cash Mukt Bharat in just 8 years!

Almost everybody I talked to credited this transformation to various moves the present BJP Government undertook and in particular the “Demonetisation” of 500 and 1000 Rupee currencies in 2016. I remember that time very well. It was in November of 2016 when the country had just finished its annual quota of bursting crackers for Diwali. On 8th night, it was the turn of the Prime Minister to set off his Diwali bomb. At the stroke of midnight 500 and 1000 Rupee notes lost their legal tender. What followed in the next couple of weeks I now realize had sown the seeds for India almost becoming a Cash Mukt Bharat.

currency

With almost no cash in hand available, the general public had to resort to ways and means to avoid using their left over legal tender and use them only sparingly. People started doing day today shopping of veggies/fruits,.. in super markets instead of the neighbourhood vendor though he sold stuff fresh.  People avoided auto rides by hailing on the roads and resorted to “Ola Autos/Ola Cabs” where they could pay by mobile wallets. Within few days as banks resembled Ration shops of the 80’s India with serpentine lines right from sunrise, vegetable and other vendors started accepting cheques for payment in fear of losing their customers.  Most food establishments who had a minimum limit for accepting credit cards removed such limits. In the hinterland of India is where the impact was colossal. Though a big population was banked under Jan Dhan Yojana, till then they were not banking. The overnight shortage of currency, helplessness in otherwise carrying out day to today lives and finally the threat of losing business permanently pushed many to figure out alternate ways for making and accepting payments and they did. There was utter chaos for few days as the country came to terms with the move but ultimately in the long run, change did happen. In India normally change is slow. But under duress change is swift.

“Can you get up now?” It’s the wife at home waking me up from my nice Sunday afternoon siesta.  “I told you to think of a topic to write for the daughter for tomorrow’s Children’s Day event. Did you think of something??” I had not. But muttered as usual, “Yes”. What’s the topic on?? She asked. And I answered, “My dream India @ 2025!!!”