Digital Monopolies Not Welcome

Ever since the government decided to shift from cash to digital transactions as far as possible, the print and electronic media has been bombarding the citizens as if it is a bonanza. On the other hand, it is an invitation to get cheated first and regretting it later. Why are the digital payment platforms so excited at India going digital from the present cash mode of transactions? They are spending crores of rupees on two page advertisements in newspapers, radio and Television channels. Dozens of such platforms, some known and many unknown so far, have suddenly come in to the market to share the lucrative pie of this commerce. Most are foreign owned or registered abroad or controlled by majority foreign equity. None of them has so far advertised their profits of the last three years at least. In fact, one such platform advertising its services with a vengeance not matched by rivals is not only running huge losses but is unlikely to register any profits before end FY 2019-20. India goes for parliament election in 2019.

Enabling the common man pay or get paid by simply using her mobile phone is perhaps a cruel joke with her because she has no money in hand, survives on miserably low wages and generally gets no regular work. There is no social security which might place a minimum amount in her hand for her upkeep at even the subsistence level. The harsh reality is that she gets cheated at every step in life from getting underpaid for her work to buying essential items of the poorest quality at high prices. Healthcare or education for her means further suffering at the hands of quacks and fakes. Life’s bitter reality is Chhal-Bal(power of deceit) and Bhed(Cheating). It has been going on for millennia in the world and the latest geniuses to join the ranks of the cheats are the cyber crooks. Internet has greatly enhanced the power of these cheats as they plan and implement projects of very high value. Cloning, phishing, data mining are some of the tools they have devised to steal money from bank accounts and digital wallets of people who may not come to know about it immediately. Purchases can be made from cloned credit and debit cards. Even advanced countries like America, France and Italy have not been able to check such menace. These cyber frauds pose a greater threat as cloning becomes a substitute for fake currency notes and use of stolen debit cards enhances the ease of transferring money to terrorists over Hawala (outside the banking system)operations. Coupled with lax security and corrupt employees, it can be a financial disaster.

In the digital environment, there is no sovereign guarantee on the money entrusted to any digital payment platform. At least the common man has absolutely no remedy if the operations are wound up one night leaving no trace of its whereabouts. For bringing 125 or 1250 crooks to justice, how far  is it fair to heap misery on 1.25 billion (125 crore) people? The number of miserable people stands at no less than 35 crore. Even then they are a very good source of income for the digital payment platform owners.

All cheats had adopted the same tricks. Their schemes always promised high returns, windfall profits, lottery, lifelong benefits, free gifts, free insurance, convenience, comfort, home service, bonus, weekly draw etc. They ran glitzy advertisements, set up impressive offices in the central business districts in the cities all over India or the region targeted by them, paid high salaries to locally recruited staff, bribed liberally the bureaucrats and the ministers, collected term deposits or monthly contributions, clandestinely moved assets to countries outside the jurisdiction of the law of India, paid the CEO exorbitantly and finally disappeared to unknown locations.  Their target had always been the poor, who are always an easy prey in the name of savings and loans or the banks which ignore due diligence for heavy cuts or bribes.

The cash crunch for more than a month now has started pinching the common man. It should not be carried any longer in the name of absurd ideas like “less cash” or “digital transaction”. People should not be pushed to go in for digital transactions below rupees 20000 a month. The crooks will find several ways of generating black money. They have already started hoarding new 500/2000 rupee notes and gold if the seizures of the last 10 days are any indication. It is not justified to harass the masses for the deviance of a few.

It is against the economic interests of India to permit monopolies in the financial sector. Internal trade, financial transactions, money & banking can’t be allowed to be monopolized by digital payment platforms. Policies of single window and ease of doing business do not mean ease of looting the citizens. The masses can’t be expected to jeopardize their financial interests because the government has decided to shift to digital payment mode. Such policies are better discussed freely first. It is no bank nationalization. It is rather reverse nationalization: handing over the keys of the RBI vaults to non-national entities.

Prime Minister Modi is putting at stake his whole political career and good reputation by promoting digital payment rather zealously. Technology is welcome, but it needs to be adapted to suit our requirements.

A single case of bankruptcy in the digital payment platform domain could prove fatal and costly for the national economy.

Even the best of ideas deserve to be publicly debated. The digital payment can also be debated so that the public can also participate.

Meanwhile the disheartening scenes of long queues at banks and ATMs must end well before December 30th 2016.

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