Kolkata: A City Not so Digital

Business City

Shopkeepers say that fear of frauds prevent them from using digital payment modes.

Kolkata: Shreshta Mukherjee, a resident of Kolkata, was wandering around Bhawanipur asking people if they had a digital payment mode. However, nobody seemed to have one. She urgently needed to buy some groceries and had no cash. She seldom uses cash and is comfortable using digital payment modes. “No grocery shop has a Unified Payments Interface (UPI) transfer option or net banking. My parents are suffering from Covid-19 and I need some grocery to feed them,” she said.

Pan shop owner, Ramesh Bihari, said that he has been dealing in cash since he started his business and is not comfortable using digital payment modes. He added that he is not tech-savvy and doesn’t understand UPI transfer and mobile banking apps. Lattu Shaw, a customer at his shop, said he was also not well-informed about digital payments but now has learned to use them.

Srishti, a grocery shop owner, said that digital payment modes are not safe and customers may fool her if she provides such payment modes to them. She added that the previous lockdowns had already led to losses and she can’t afford any financial issues now.

Sukhendu, a street food stall owner, said that he does not even have a bank account to process online payments. He added that he doesn’t have all the documents required to create a bank account.

However,  B.M. Kumaraswamy, a Bengaluru-based economist said that not having bank accounts is not an excuse shop owners can give. “There are schemes like Jan Dhan Yojana and  one can create zero-balance bank accounts. These shop owners should create a bank account to ease transactions,” he added.

Hrishita Batabyal, a resident of Kolkata, said that she also prefers using online payment modes as they are convenient and safer in times of the pandemic. “Dealing in cash leads to direct contact between customers and shop owners. Digital payments reduce that risk, so I prefer paying through UPI most of the time,” she added. However, small-scale shops don’t provide her with an option to pay digitally so she has to deal in cash that’s against her will, she added.

Ranjit Das, a general physician in Kolkata, said that dealing in cash can be unsafe for shop owners. “Shop owners often lick their fingers while counting cash and may get infected with the Covid-19 virus,” he added.

According to the latest National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) data, UPI transfers in the country recorded 2.23 billion transactions amounting to Rs 4.16 trillion. In addition, RBI estimates digital payments to jump to 1.5 billion transactions. The recent data by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology shows that West Bengal ranks the first in e-transactions in the country with 254 million such transactions. However, shop owners in Kolkata act in the other direction.

However, Raj Kamal, a street food stall owner in Kolkata, provides online payment modes as dealing in cash is unsafe and most  customers demand for such methods. His children helped him learn the interface and now he is comfortable in using mobile banking apps, he added.

The medium-scale shops like Ferns N Petals, Cakes do have online payment modes and have separate staff to look at the transactions which makes it easier for them. However, small-scale shop owners said that only one or two of them manage the shop and it’s very difficult to look into an additional matter of concern like digital payments.

Kumaraswamy said, “Cash is a major reason for black money. Digital payments eliminate the accumulation of black money. Therefore, shop owners should look forward to using e-transaction modes.” Shop owners and customers both should take an initiative to promote the use of digital payments. There are ways where online frauds can be controlled and shop owners must be educated by the government about the same, he added.