New Delhi/Mumbai: Late in December, or in early January, the campus of the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay (IIT-B) at Powai will go entirely cashless. All transactions will be electronic, using micro-ATMs with a fingerprint reader.
Behind the cashless movement at Powai, first reported by the Hindustan Times on 24 September, is the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which issues unique IDs, or Aadhaar numbers, and which will be testing its authentication services at the IIT.
“Apart from being a good means of identification, Aadhaar can also be leveraged for authentication services,” said Ashish Das, a professor in the department of mathematics at IIT-B and the author of a 2010 paper on cashless payment systems. “When it comes to digital payments, the biggest issue is of establishing the authenticity of the transaction.”
If the pilot is successful, the cashless transactions at IIT-B could foreshadow the norm for all banking transactions in the country. “We are already testing our authentication services in rural areas through an ongoing pilot in Jharkhand. The idea of starting a pilot in IIT-Bombay is to also test it in the urban setting as well,” said A.P. Singh, deputy director general of UIDAI.
Thus far, around 8,200 people, including students and faculty, have enrolled for the Aadhaar project, joining another two-to-three thousand. The remaining—around 4,000—will be enrolled over the next few months.
Rajdeep Mandal, 21, a final-year student of computer science at IIT-B, says that though enrolment was not compulsory, he was one of the first students to do so. “It is a national project and I think they expected some cooperation. I believe it is kind of a duty,” he said. “It will simplify things. You will be able to roam around the campus without any money, and the transactions will be faster.”
While UIDAI may have its own reasons for choosing the setting of the pilot, the students already feel a strong connection to the project. UIDAI chairman and Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani graduated from IIT-B in 1978 and has maintained his connection to the school to which he has generously given.
“That man has done a lot,” said one of the students who is helping on the pilot. During an interview in the canteen of his on-campus hostel, he added that IIT is a good ecosystem to test the systems because it has very good information technology infrastructure and very good connectivity.
“The kind of transactions that people do over here would be very diverse,” the student said. “This canteen gives us the low-end transactions with untrained manpower at the other end. And people come here in large numbers around dinner or after midnight.”
The campus book store and restaurants on campus typically process fewer but higher-value transactions, added this student, who did not want to be identified.
The UIDAI project gives people an option to open new bank accounts or link existing ones at the time of enrolment. The first set of Aadhaar-linked bank accounts are expected to be opened next month.
Incidentally, IIT-B was also the seat of a pilot study for a cashless society titled Smart Rupees System, which was initiated by the Reserve Bank of India and was spread over the late 90s, where transactions were supposed to be done through smart cards.
“The idea for this pilot is to test the UID authentication and payment system to see if money can be remitted from one bank account to another smoothly using Aadhaar as the authentication means,” said Rajesh Bansal, assistant director general, UIDAI.
Enrolments, which were suspended while exams are on, are resuming this week. After the enrolments are completed, all the Aadhaar numbers will be linked to the bank accounts of the students, faculty and the shop owners of all the payment points in the college and hostel, such as the cafeteria, the book shop, the utilities store, etc.
It will take another six months for things to start rolling out completely, said Das.
Till then, cash-strapped students can conveniently pretend they’ve forgotten their wallets at home, when the bills arrive.