Waiting for network: Govt plans to distribute free phones, but Andhra village finds no use of it.

Govt wants cashless economy but Andhra village still has no connectivityImage for representation
news Demonetisation Wednesday, November 30, 2016 - 20:08
Korra Raghunath has no use for the free mobile phones that the Andhra Pradesh government plans to give people so that they can transition to a cashless economy. 
“It’s not useful for the tribal communities as most places in the interiors do not even have proper network to make a call. I had to walk half a kilometre to take your call. Moreover, people find it difficult to use mobile phones because the literacy rate is very low, Half of them don’t even know how to make a bank transaction,” Raghunath says. 
Now that the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes have been recalled, things are pretty bad in his village of Lambasingi. The village’s nearly 500 residents belong to the Kodust community, which is a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group.
Forty-two-year-old Satyanarayana owns a small grocery shop in the village and has been hit hard by the demonetisation.
While he travels 20 km every week to get products from a wholesale market in Chintapalli mandal, he now has several problems. 
“My business is down by more than 50%, because there is an acute shortage of change. I can’t even buy new products unless I clear the old stock,” he says. 
Located over 100km away from Visakhapatnam city, all three banks closest to them are 20km away in Chintapalli, the mandal headquarters. These banks serve about 30 villages in a 50km radius. The same goes for the lone Union Bank ATM in the neighbouring Gudem Kotha mandal, but it has been dysfunctional for over a month.
Getting to any of these places is literally, an uphill task. Villagers have to walk around 5km to reach the nearest bus stand.
“Those 5 km are not easy to walk. It’s a hilly area. What’s worse is that they need to get back before dark as they fear being robbed,” says Raghunath. 
Even those who have managed to get the new Rs. 2,000 note, it isn’t of much use for the villagers, as Rs. 500 is not easily available, and smaller change is hard to come by. 
With the Kharif crop being currently harvested, farmers of the village are a worried lot as they have to begin sowing for the rabi season (which begins in December), and the cash simply isn’t there.
“Demonetisation has severely hit agriculture here. We are harvesting the crop and some are sowing. Due to the shortage of cash, banks are not granting us loans (to buy inputs). But even if the farmers have the money, they are unable to withdraw any because the banks don’t have enough cash,” Raghunath explains.
About 40% of the villagers are not covered by the banking system, points out Srinivas Ganjivarapu, president of Visakhapatnam-based Chaitanya, an NGO which works for tribal welfare. 
“Even among those who have accounts, very few people know how to carry out bank transactions. How are people going to carry out online transactions?” asks Srinivas.
The Andhra Pradesh government plans to distribute free mobile phones to people, especially those from disadvantaged communities, and launch a mobile app 'AP Purse' in a bid to make Andhra Pradesh the first state in the country to adopt cashless transactions.
Srinivas says that tribal people were bound to be among the worst-affected. “It’s not just about demonetisation. No matter which welfare scheme or development programme, the government (both centre and state) shows the least concern about tribal communities, who live in the most difficult situations. How can this cashless transaction ease their problem?”