An unmetalled road from Burgoo, some 22 kms from Srinagar, in central Kashmir’s Budgam district, leads to the quaint hamlet of Lanura. Nestled amid apple orchards and paddy fields, Lanura had hogged headlines for becoming the first cashless village in Jammu and Kashmir.
The Government had then claimed that every family had been trained in using the Electronic Payment system (EPS). It was surreal because the village was and still is bereft of basic amenities of life. Demonetisation, it was explained, was good because it would usher in a ‘çashless’ or ‘less cash economy’.
“We are cashless in the sense that we don’t have any money,” says Ashiq Hussain Malla, a local resident. Malla points out that his village counts among the poorest villages in the Valley. But if the Government or the people had hoped that a ‘cashless’, digital economy would usher in a better lifestyle, they were in for a huge disappointment.
“No one in our village uses a smart phone and the Internet hardly works. Power outages are frequent. I don’t understand what prompts the government to make such baseless claims,” he asks.
In December 2016, soon after demonetisation, the district administration in Budgam claimed that Lanura had become the first village to go cashless and one member of each household had been trained in using the Electronic Payment System (EPS).
Villagers claimed that some officials suddenly surfaced in the village and gave them card swipe machines. As soon as they held these machines, they clicked pictures and took them back.
“I was given a machine and asked to look towards a person holding a camera. Next day someone told me that he saw my photograph in a local newspaper,” said AB Rehman, who runs a small grocery shop in the village.
Comprising 110 households, Laruna falls in a backward area. The village is comparatively low on literacy and people mostly work as unskilled labourers in adjoining villages and other towns of the Valley to eke out a living. There are just three small shops and a middle school in the village. The roads have not been metalled for over a decade.
“Our village is deprived of all basic amenities of life. We drink contaminated water. There is no primary health centre or banking facility,” lamented Mohammad Shaban, Lambardar of Lanura, adding that “It sounds rather bizarre and outlandish when the government claims of ‘going cashless’ about our village.”