Special Issue: Cashlessness in India: Vision, policy and practices
• 大类 : 工程技术 - 4区
• 小类 : 电信学 - 3区
There is a global convergence on the understanding of cashlessness as an instrument for a more transparent, efficient and inclusive society, since the late 2000s, from various quarters including, but not limited to, national governments and intergovernmental organizations, business and financial agencies (especially those working in the digital money/payments sector), policy think-tanks, and international development organisations. In line with the mainstream discourse (Schneider and Enste, 2002) that attributes cash to the underground economy, Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff (2016), identifies cash as a “curse” which ails the world today, arguing that cash is used for tax evasion, corruption, financing terrorism, the drug trade and human trafficking. In the last few years, the use of cash has steadily decreased in Sweden, England and other parts of Northern Europe, in a paradigm that, according to a study by Credit Suisse (2013), will lead to a cashless society by 2030. Concurrently, on November 8th 2016, the Government of India undertook the exercise of demonetisation of two high value currency notes, where Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes were taken out of circulation. In some countries there seems to have been a gradual transition towards cashlessness (Sweden, China); in some others such transition relies on specific lobbies (Italy, Nigeria) or on a forceful governmental agenda where the consent of people was non-existent (India). Given these vast differences in implementation, practice and outcomes of cashlessness in different geographies, it is critical to understand the histories and factors that have shaped it in particular, empirical contexts.
This special issue sets out to interrogate cashlessness in India. The idea of cashlessness has gained prominence in Indian policy and governance circles, with “faceless, paperless, cashless” is identified as a key role of Digital India, the GoI’s flagship programme. However, given the particularities of the region, the precise contours of cashlessness in the context of India still need to be unpacked. For instance, Niti Aayog, a key policy think tank of the GoI, cites the Payment and Settlement Act, 2007, to define digital payments as including “any transfer of funds which is initiated by a person by way of instruction, authorization or order to a bank to debit or credit an account maintained with that bank through electronic means and includes point of sale transfers; automated teller machine transactions, direct deposits or withdrawal of funds, transfers initiated by telephone, internet and, card payment.” (Niti Aayog, 2018). It must be noted that when compared with the interpretation of cashlessness undertaken in other countries, this definition starts with something as basic as having a computerised bank account.
These visions of cashlessness can be observed in the emerging policy trajectory. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation notes that between 2014 and 2017, the percentage of the Indian population with bank accounts has risen from 54% to 78%; and the success of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana” (or PMJDY) launched in August 2014, has been attributed to this rapid growth in the number of adults with access to the formal banking system. Closely following the PMJDY, the GoI launched the “Digital India” initiative which focused on developing and strengthening digital infrastructure, including the introduction of platform interfaces such as paygov (an app to facilitate online payments through internet banking, credit cards and debit cards) and BHIM app (a mobile money app that enables bank-to-bank payments), and an increased push for the adoption of Aadhaar (a 12-digit unique identification number that Indian citizens can obtain by submitting their biometric data) by the government. Immediately after, in 2016, the GoI’s demonetization drive brought up concepts like digital payments, e-wallets and cashlessness in the public domain. This experiment, the largest of its kind, in a democratic country, gathered considerable global attention, as a push or even a ‘jolt’ towards digital economy. (Agarwal, 2018).
Interrogating cashlessness: many stakeholders, diverse perspectives
Echoing a global developmental agenda from organizations including the UN, ITU, the Inter-American Bank and Grameen Foundation, financial inclusion is a key plank in the vision of cashlessness in India. The United Nations Capital Development Fund discusses financial inclusion closely in connection with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 2030. The m-Pesa success story in Kenya since 2007 tied financial inclusion conversations firmly to the introduction of digital technologies - specifically, mobile money. Further, a 2014 report, the McKinsey Global Institute identified digital payments as one of 12 “empowering” and “disruptive” technologies that can improve the standard of living for Indians across the board (Kaka et al., 2014, p.1). Moreover, as the historical experience with demonetization suggests, the process of policy formation involves considerable negotiation between stakeholders, in this case, between the RBI and the Government of India. The establishment and role of new entities such as the National Payments Commission of India too has proven key in the cashlessness trajectory in India. Further, the entry of a range of private Indian fintech companies and products in this space, including digital wallets from companies like PayTM, Airtel, and Vodafone, and credit from ZestMoney and LazyPay, has also played a significant role in the trajectory of cashlessness in the country, including at the policy level.
A related set of questions emerge through the discussion of empowerment - Who gets empowered? Who gets left out? Underlying these questions is the idea that the social understanding of money is rooted in the practices of people (Maurer, 2015). For instance, if we consider access to money through the lens of gender, we encounter some striking paradoxes. Media outlets have reported that the gender gap in opening accounts has also been reduced (Biswas, 2018). Findex (the World Bank index for financial inclusion) estimated in 2017 that 77% of Indian women own a bank account against 43% in 2014 and 26% in 2011. If this basic measure of financial inclusion is taken into consideration, women are more financially included than before. (Kohli, 2018). However, these reports also show that half of the accounts belonging to women lie dormant. (Biswas, 2018). In fact, while government reports suggest the volume of digital payments has increased since 2016 (Niti Aayog, 2018), media outlets have reported that the user base has not expanded or diversified per se (Bhatia, 2017). Therefore, this special issue also seeks to identify and examine what other parameters, lenses, variables would be operative in the context of inclusion and empowerment through cashlessness in India. What would be the major legal, economic, social, technological concerns, conditions, repercussions of increasing cashlessness?
Scope of this special issue
The thematic foci of the special issue are threefold: technological vision, policies and practices surrounding cashlessness in India. We invite entries that combine an inter-disciplinary approach with robust empirical data, in fields spanning, but not restricted to