It looks like any other corporate township. Roads are well laid-out, Neat rows of houses are inhabited by the company employees and all facilities are there ~ shopping centre, schools, canteens, hospital, sports complex and other such establishments. But what set the Gujarat Narmada Fertilizers and Chemicals Ltd (GNFC) township at Bharuch, in Gujarat, was the claim to be completely cashless.

As a sceptical group of journalists fanned around the shops, one found customers comfortably making payment through various electronic devices ~ debit and credit cards, Paytm, e-wallet, Bhim and other mobile apps, to name a few. “It has become very convenient now,” said a young housewife, after buying some provision items at the grocery shop. “Earlier I had to carry cash. Apart from the danger of losing cash, sometimes one falls short of money.” Amazingly, even small denominations are accepted electronically.

The local teavendor and the paan-shop also transacted electronically, much to the amusement of the visiting media team. Asked how it helped him, Nitin, who runs a paanshop in the GNFC township, said not only was he free from the headache of keeping enough change to return to customers, he did not worry about credit any more.

“Why will a person maintain credit, when all he has to do is transfer the money?” But what about procuring goods, especially from outside? The shopkeepers said the suppliers were also transacting electronically as it was more convenient for them as well. Whether it’s advance or on-delivery, money transfer is instant and the wholesalers, even from outside the township, were assured of payment.

While they agreed that cash was a legal tender that they could not refuse, one shopkeeper said since everyone now transacted electronically, they were not faced with a situation where they had to decline cash.. Even farmers are procuring fertilizers through cashless transaction, informed a GNFC official. In fact, the official informed, because of this seamless payment, suppliers often give discounts to the farmers. The group then visited a temple and found a notice at the entrance asking devotees to give donations not in cash but electronically.

Inside, there were Paytm stickers at the sanctum sanctorum of the various gods. The priest assured that devotees religiously made donations. He refused cash saying it was difficult to spend it in the township.

A first

GNFC’s township at Bharuch became India’s first complete cashless township post the demonetisation drive announced by the Prime Minister on 8 November, 2016. It took just 10 days to implement the decision to go cashless, said R S Joshi , additional general manager GNFC. “The biggest challenge was awareness generation,” he recalled.

“We went door-to-door campaigning and educating people about how facile cashless transaction is.” GNFC organised 300 training sessions for 1.9 lakh farmers, retailers, housewives and students. Over 2,250 points of sale (PoS) machines were installed, GNFC online portal, GNFC mobile app and ewallets were launched as options to digital payments. This resulted in a 52 per cent increase in sales in the following two months (December-January) as compared to the same period the previous year.

Now digital payments in the township comprising about 1,000 families cover around 50 shops, hospital, guest house, schools, colleges, sports and reacreation club, restaurant and the temple, R S Joshi informed.

Asked if there was any resistance, the GNFC official said there was none at all. “This was seen to be more convenient and people welcomed it.” He said multiple source of payments, money management and reconciling accounts were the biggest challenges but were overcome jointly with support from banks.

The GNFC model could be replicated across the country, which has around 5,000 townships with a population of about 3.5 crore, the GNFC official said. Since these townships have single administrative control and a population that is literate and having smartphones, such a cashless culture could easily be enabled, he added.

While it is hard to believe that no cash changes hands in the township, it certainly takes the economy to a higher plane. It may begin at a local level but it is easy to see the change on a wider scale.