Digitally cool, Lakdi ka Pul

By Aastha Joshi

The digitisation of financial transactions in Lakdi Ka Pul was the first thing that appealed to me when I visited my fieldwork site. Lakdi Ka Pul is one of the oldest junctions of the historical city of Hyderabad. I would like to highlight through my blog how the oldest part of an ancient city has transitioned with technology and matched the pace of digitisation in terms of financial transactions. We talk about formal and informal economies, and measure them through different parameters. Transaction of money is one of the basic components of trade. This article will focus on incrementality in terms of technology and economic inclusion of informal economies in the mainstream through digital transactions.

Nowadays, the use of technology has become ubiquitous in every sphere of modern life. Hyderabad is the hub of the nation’s information technology boom. And its spillover effects are highly visible in other sectors too.  It has helped the economy in several positive ways, by checking unaccounted money, filing returns, lower risks of carrying cash, etc… On the other side, it also raises concerns like cyber security, safety of money, difficulty for the technologically uninitiated, among others. Let us have a small GIF tour to understand digital payment through the LKP perspective.

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I came across the above GIF image when I stepped into Lakdi ka Pul area and went to buy a screen guard for my mobile phone.  While paying for the stuff I bought, I was amazed when the street vendor offered me multiple online payment options like Paytm, BHIM, Google pay, etc… Moreover, during a conversation with him, he explained to me how easy business has become for him after using such methods for trade. It helps him in saving money and he can keep track of his earnings with relative ease. Interestingly, he also mentioned that he felt like he was contributing towards the digitisation of the economy and working towards making the country more modern and youth friendly. Question that arises here is does incrementality is being ahead of others or coping with change. Sometimes change isn’t easy like difficulty in acquiring advanced knowledge. Street vendors like Salil Bhai who is in his late 60’s sometimes find technical operations on mobile difficult.

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The above GIF was captured on my third visit to the field. I met a young merchant who ran a shop that sold mobile phone recharge vouchers. We talked about how the online recharge system had taken over their business to some extent. He also offers online payment mode for his services for recharging prepaid mobile carriers. I saw a flock of birds sitting on the several wires that hung around the place and casually asked him, “Bhaiya in wires ki wajzah se dikkat to nai hoti, idhar udhar latakte rehte hai?” and he promptly replied, “Arey Madam, ye wire hi to duniya ko jod kar rakhti hai, isse se hi to internet chalta haii!” Despite not knowing much about the workings of the telecom business, he is making his contribution according to his own understanding. He is facing two difficulties one the online competition and the other is accidental risk of entangled wires. Here I experienced a gap between incremental progress in the system and required skill to match the progress.  The world is moving towards internet based services and leaving behind those who couldn’t catch the pace. This can be compared with cyber cafe businesses, which are losing their customers because of ease in accessibility.

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From very large establishments to a small vegetable seller, everyone was digitised in their own way. Yes, Lakdi ka Pul shows great parity in terms using digital modes of payment. From the lens of incrementality it can be termed as evolution or clearly shows the process of digitisation in the area. They cater to a different customer base, they sell totally diverge commodity, in fact they belong to two different worlds but united by progressive and transparent ideas.

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I took this image above when I visited the Financial District. A huge contrast can be seen: companies who develop, maintain and operate such transactions were adjacent to their most loyal customers. Allow me to clarify my use of the word ‘loyal’; I visited two shops in that area, one was a bakery where I stopped to buy mineral water bottles and the other was a small pan shop from where I bought some pieces of chewing gums. Both the shops accepted digital payments. While the first shopkeeper was sceptical about digital payment or any such transactions, the owner of the smaller shop casually said, “Madam jaise aapki marzi Hum aapki sewa mein hai idhar”. Digital payments are one of the authentic modes of transparent transactions or what we call White money and the question of unaccounted money is the biggest mystery in our country which can be resolved through such initiatives; But the bigger question is do we really want it to happen? The above quoted incident not only shows the faith of the poor towards the system but also ignorance of well off people. Vulnerable has seen the worst in his life and his life is like an open book and hence he welcomes any positive change happily and feels proud about his contribution.

Incrementality in terms of digitisation of Lakdi ka Pul has traveled a long journey from being an old age marketplace to modern shopping arena. People from almost all walks of life come here and contribute their bit. But the question is still the same. How everyone reacted to such incremental growth and till what extent it is profitable for them?  Did digital incrementality was successful in bridging the gap between rich and poor, across genders?

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