Chole bhature stalls to mobile shops: RBI’s testing labs for e-rupee
Jostling your way through the thick flow of tourists and hawkers in the narrow, congested lanes of Chandni Chowk takes you to a shop famous for its chole bhature and other such delicacies. The tempting smell of snacks and the heady mix of spices wafts through the air as customers wait patiently for their food. This is one of the many establishments where the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is testing its Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC).
In fact, kiosks selling the popular snack chole bhature, fruit-sellers, mom & pop stores, and small mobile phone shops have emerged as the testing ground for the country’s digital currency, which is expected to transform the way financial transactions are done across the country. “Our bank approached us to be part of the project and we thought why not? It is a new experiment,” says Gautam Narang, owner of the snacks shop, pointing to the QR code for the CDBC that competes for space among a raft of other digital payment options. Narang says the CDBC’s use is limited and just two or three transactions take place a day. Some distance away, in the thick maze of mobile phone shops, a seller has also joined the project. “This is something new and has the backing of the RBI,” he says, but adds that transactions are yet to gather momentum as only those who have the app can use the CBDC.
Digital currency meets pomegranates
The pilot project, which began in December, has seen 7. 7 lakh transactions. It is being carried out in five cities and 50,000 users and 5,000 merchants are part of the experiment. Eight banks, including the country’s largest lender State Bank of India, are taking part. “At the Reserve Bank of India’s board meeting today, I learned about the RBI digital currency — the e-rupee. Right after the meeting, I visited Bacche Lal Sahani, a nearby fruit vendor, who is one of the first merchants to accept it. Digital India in action! (Got great pomegranates as well),” industrialist Anand Mahindra had said on microblogging site Twitter recently.
The central bank, which is following a gradual approach, has also launched a massive outreach programme across cities and is seeking feedback from students, academics and other potential users of the digital currency. At a hotel in Chandigarh, students from various colleges, professors and curious customers gathered to listen to senior officials from the RBI outlining the features of the digital currency. They also sought feedback and ideas from the crowd, which would be analysed and, perhaps, result in fine-tuning of the processes and capabilities before the final launch.
“The digital rupee is aimed to complement, rather than replace, current forms of money and is envisaged to provide an additional payment avenue to users. It should not be construed as a step to replace any of the existing bouquet of payment options already available,” RBI’s executive director Ajay Kumar Choudhary said as a team from SBI demonstrated the use of the digital currency by undertaking a few transactions on the sidelines. “As CBDCs are an electronic form of sovereign currency, it should imbibe all the possible features of physical currency. Therefore, the degree of anonymity would be a key design decision for the CBDC,” said Choudhary. Nearly 115 countries, representing over 95% of global GDP, are exploring CBDCs. Around 60 countries are in an advanced phase of exploration (development, pilot, or launch). As many as 18 of the G20 countries are exploring a CBDC, with seven already in the pilot stage, according to data from the RBI.