Pay-totem: India’s new e-wallet mantra

It’s like being asked to stop driving or using public transport, and travel only by a startup’s self-driving cars

Two days ago, Delhi Metro shocked users with the announcement that 10 of its stations would issue tokens only through the Paytm e-wallet. For the digitally challenged, the stations have ticket-vending machines (not intuitive) and just one cash counter each.

A Metro card is the best way to pay Metro fares, but suppose you are just passing through Delhi, you wouldn’t want to buy a card. A 10-rupee token is best bought with a Rs 10 note, but the Metro brass decided that, no, you would need to use something fancier, never mind that it can be very slow, or that many users might not have the app or a smartphone.

There are, of course, questions of propriety and business sense that this deal with Paytm raises. Can you imagine McDonald’s refusing to be paid with anything other than, say, Punjab National Bank debit cards? Metro has since clarified that other e-wallets will also be integrated with its systems, but that sounds like an afterthought.

How can anyone outlaw or ban or bar or ‘discourage’ the country’s real currency — paper money imprinted with M K Gandhi’s face in a high-security mint? Especially when that old mode of payment is quicker and more reliable than the new in most situations.

It’s like being asked to stop driving or using public transport, and travel only by a startup’s self-driving cars. Yet, that is what has been happening in India since late evening on November 8, when the Prime Minister announced demonetisation.

Wallet downside

Wallet payments may have advantages, but they are not practical or efficient all the time. That’s why the government’s massive push for them has a totemic ring to it. Who wants to struggle with QR codes for a toffee or roadside tea?

Wallets are great where they help end queues and crowding, and save time, but there are transactions that happen faster without them.

Imagine, you have to pay toll on a highway. A radio frequency tag is the best method. But what if you go on long drives only once a year, or less often? RFID tags can’t be peeled off windscreens, and windscreens get smashed when boys play cricket nearby. So, if it’s not an RFID tag, how do you pay toll swiftly?

Cash is instant too when you tender exact change. Cards are slower than cash, especially when your bank forgets to send a confirmatory message. You don’t know for sure how much money has been debited. And you might not be able to come back soon to argue with the operator that he mis-charged you.

How about using an e-wallet? Don’t worry if it’s not reading the toll company’s QR code; keep trying. Or the person manning the booth may be mixing up your phone number digits. Or mobile signals in the area might be playing hookey. Hope the people waiting behind you are sporting, but they might not be. If they are not, do check with your car workshop whether they accept wallet payments for repairs.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: