NITI Aayog chief moots cardless and ATM-less India after 2020

 In its  zeal to push Indians into a new cashless era, government moots bizarre targets
Bangalore, January 14 2017:  Having pushed an entire nation  into a  situation where  80% of the currency has been whisked away, at a moment's notice,  the Indian governments finds itself in the position  of having to put in place a solution a day -- almost -- to enable hapless citizens to  access and spend their legally earned money.
Hence all those costly full page advertisements, day after day, courtesy public banks and financial institutions,  touting the merits of this or that  mobile payment scheme.  Then came the second wave of ads from e-wallet services, trying to  catch the windfall of e-payments  forced on the population. In the Third Wave has come  new  solutions, from government that  promise the ability to pay or receive money without a mobile phone, without Internet or  a data plan.  All you require is an Aadhaar number and a bank account to back it.  Say hello to BHIM, Bharat  Interface for Money.
Like every other payment scheme, this one is only as good as the institutions geared to work with it ( with the small requirement that they need to install a finger print or iris scanner). Like every other payment, BHIM is too new to have the spread and reach of a truly national system. Each is good in parts -- very small parts.
Yet the overarching enthusiasm in official  circles to promote the Cashless or Less-Cash Society has seen some  breathtakingly  naive   projections.  Non more so than the widely reported opinion of NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant  that within the next two-and-half years, that is by 2020,  India will make all its debit cards, credit cards, ATM machines and POS machines totally irrelevant. 
Speaking at  a session of  the Youth Pravasi Bharaitiya Divas in Bangalore, Mr Kant  is quoted  by wire agencies as adding: The cards will become redundant in India as every Indian will do transaction just by using his thumb and mobile phones. The transaction would be done in just thirty seconds through Aadhaar-enabled technology.
 Some 600-700 million bank account holders in India have been provided ATM -cum-debit cards and till November 8 the principal means they accessed their cash was at an ATM. A minority swiped their cards at points of sale in shops and commercial establishments, joining another 25-30 million who are fortunate to be provided a credit card. It is no secret that while such card transactions enjoy reasonable  protection against misuse -- one can even say good protection after RBI mandated  chips in cards and 2-stage authentication -- the widely used e-wallets are pretty much unprotected by  appropriate  rules and mandated checks.  E-wallets are a work in progress in India and far from fool proof.  Aadhaar-enabled payments requiring biometric authentication are nowhere near mature when it comes to infrastructure and logistics and rollout. 
To suggest that India can do without  cards and ATMs    in under 3 years  is a breathtaking disconnect from reality. Plastic is a globally accepted  means of carrying  money and paying and receiving its value.  It has taken a quarter century to evolve and even in nations far more fortunate with Internet connectivity,  credit and debit cards are  preferred  by large swathes of the population.  So are ATMs  which  in India  which number just around 2 lakhs and are rather thin on the ground. If the Niti Aayog CEO is in a position to  act on his wishful thinking and  slow down the pace at which ATMs are added in the country,  or  influence banks to not issue ATM cards  with every account, it will only   make a bad situation worse. 
The way to evangelise  the new less-cash, Internet driven  e-payments  economy is to  put in place robust solutions which are seen to  be easy and secure. This takes time  --  enormous commitment of resources.  There is no shortcut by way of trashing tried, trusted  alternative mechanisms  that have stood the test of time and are part of  globally accepted mechanisms.