By Jayant Singhal:
For more than a decade, the Palnar village in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh has been infamous for being the hotbed for Maoist activities.
Even a simple chore like a visit to a hospital required the villagers to seek permission from Naxal leaders. But, with the course of time, things have gradually fallen into place, and the terror has subdued.
However, the area is still sensitive and of late, CRPF is acting as a bulwark to things.
The developmental process of Palnar has not been at par with its neighbouring villages.
There is no internet and mobile connectivity available. The nearest ATM machine and the closest bank branch are more than 22 km away. The road connectivity has been created recently.
But, things changed after demonetisation – the night of 8th November 2016, that became a tipping point to bring a revolution in the village.
However strange it may sound, but due to lack of connectivity, the village got this news about three days later as compared to the rest of the country.
Like all Indians, the villagers too wanted to get their old notes exchanged, but it had huge opportunity costs involved – from travelling to forgoing their daily wages.
It was at that point when the district administration realised the importance of digitalisation as the only solution that could fill the banking void and other loopholes.
With no internet connectivity, no mobile coverage, no digital literacy and poor infrastructure, digitalisation though, at first, seemed like a far-cry but wasn’t impossible.
Dantewada’s district collector, Sourabh Kumar learned that the Essar Group was running some quarrying operations in the nearby vicinity, and had installed a 10 Mbps optic-fibre connection in the area.
As a result, he requested them to extend their network to Palnar. Fortunately, they agreed and later on BSNL was also contacted to set up a Wi-Fi hotspot zone at the weekly market centre.
With the foundational infrastructure available, the administration decided to get the local youth engaged and trained them, giving birth to its own digital ambassadors who could now get their fellow villagers acquainted with the aspects of financial and digital literacy.
From door-to-door conversations to street plays, a wide range of tactics was employed to spread awareness about micro ATMs, Aadhaar cards and biometric fingerprints’ identification process.
Representatives from the administration conducted regular meetings with the local people to stay connected and updated with the process. Banks were also roped in to ensure the availability of RuPay Cards with every person maintaining their personal Jandhan bank account.
Aadhaar card seeding was also undertaken. NOCs and Aadhaar card details were fetched from the unseeded account holders.
The shopkeepers were also trained intensively about the digital payments’ metric. Within a few months, the shops doubled in number, around the places where deposits and withdrawals could take place through micro-ATMs.
This improved digital literacy and constant encouragement by the administration paved the way for digitalisation.
Post-demonetisation, within a span of just 11 months, the village registered cashless transactions worth ₹14 lakhs.
Today, every single shop in the village is accepting online payments and interestingly, financial transactions for all local fests, marriages and other activities, are also digitally performed.
Despite the absence of internet connectivity, and even with such a volatile political climate, people in Palnar are now connected with each other on WhatsApp as well.
It won’t be an exaggeration to say that Palnar serves as a quintessential example for other villages in the country to follow suit.
This motivational real-life story indicates how odds can be beaten successfully to go digital and achieve the target.