If you have been among the millions of Indians, out on visits to your local bank/ATM’s in the past week to exchange and or get new banknotes, just pause and think about this. What if the private sector had not been involved in this exercise at all?
Besides all the positives and ‘transformational’ changes the ‘surgical strike’ on black money will hopefully deliver, we hope that Prime Minister Modi will not ignore the most important one. And that is, to stop counting on ageing, crumbling government machinery to execute, and finding more ways to involve the private sector enterprise in major initiatives.
In fact, we wonder if our Prime Minister was counting on one huge advantage with the demonetization drive, that no other major government-led initiative so far had enjoyed. After all, thankfully, the financial sector has a solid private sector play, helping the government no end in transmitting, and now managing the challenge currently. For, unlike the many government schemes in healthcare, agriculture etc, which only cause frustration at the waste, inefficiency and little change they make, one can see the game changing effects of demonetization first hand, thanks in no part to the key role played by private sector players too.
Take ATM’s for example. PSU banks, at last count, had approximately 70% of all installed ATM’s, but with a much lower availability record than their private sector counterparts. While part of the reason for this might be the fact that they have ATM’s spread across the hinterland too, where maintenance and replenishment are not easy, there is no doubt that an equally big factor has been the general inefficiency and slow decision-making at these banks, as compared to their private sector counterparts.
Take another key example. Even as the government and PSU banks have gone to town announcing to all and sundry about the extra effort their staff has been putting in to manage this extraordinary situation, the situation would have been catastrophic without the thousands of private bank branches that have stepped in to shoulder the load, quietly.
Finally, the cash logistics firms. 100% managed by private sector firms, these firms have really borne the brunt of the challenge. with employees not even able to go back home for 4 days or more, working to refill and recalibrate the ATM machines on a war footing, these rarely seen but critical firms have made this whole exercise possible and will be there to see the end of the panic too.
As we all hope for the success of the scheme objectives and a better and cleaner economy, we can only hope that Mr Modi will take heed, and ensure that in the next steps, private sector involvement is taken to an altogether new level to ensure the economy truly benefits. Be it for training rural India and the urban poor on using digital currency, on safely securing their debit cards, ensuring the further spread of banking to the unbanked, the challenges remain immense for a country of our size, and simply cannot be achieved optimally without involving all sectors equally.