Daily wagers’ balance enquiries choke system

New Delhi | Mumbai: An unprecedented surge of enquiries from lakhs of daily wage earners, migrants and farm workers anxious to know if government payouts have reached their bank accounts in the midst of the Covid-19 induced economic upheaval is choking digital channels, according to bankers and payment operators.

The high rate of transaction failures — between 40-45% — using the Aadhaar Enabled Payment System (AePS), is also leading to a pileup of credit reversals with banks, people monitoring the channels told ET.

“The government is transferring money directly to accounts of so many people, so there is a natural tendency to enquire about the balance, the high rate of failure — close to 40% — is also adding to the urge to check balance again and again,” Dinesh Tyagi, chief executive of CSC e-Governance Services, told ET.

India has over 370,000 digital kiosks — called Common Service Centres — across the country especially in the rural areas.

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Of this, around 25,000 CSCs currently allow withdrawals of government subsidies sent directly into Aadhaar-linked bank accounts under schemes such as the PM-KISAN and PM Ujjwala schemes.


“We had to completely stop taking any balance enquiry requests since the last two weeks as it was bringing our systems down and disrupting all services,” said Tyagi estimating that CSCs were receiving over 5 lakh enquiries for balance and 1 lakh requests for withdrawals every day.

The AePS platform, run by the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), is central to the government’s direct benefits transfer (DBT) platform that provides cash doles to poor women, senior citizens and farmers to help them tide over the lockdown imposed due to the pandemic. Confirming the stress on transactions due to the massive increase in queries, a senior banker told ET that “AePS failure rates exceed 45% and more in some geographies”.

Public sector bank officials said credit reversal related reconciliations — required when an account has been debited of funds, but the withdrawal hasn’t happened — are being held up due to high traffic on the channel.

In addition, transactions are also failing due to insufficient funds in dormant accounts leading to automatic freezing of accounts, biometric mismatches, low network connectivity and unavailability of switches, bankers said.

The matter was raised in the recent steering committee meeting of the NPCI and a working group has now been constituted to resolve the issue of credit reversal dues on the channel, an official told ET.

Tyagi of CSC said while payment operators get paid a small sum on each withdrawal, balance enquiry is free even though it requires the full fingerprint-based authentication. The CSC has now written a letter to NPCI to impose a ₹5 charge for each balance enquiry request, he said. An emailed query sent to NPCI did not elicit a response till press time.

In March, 26 million transactions were initiated for balance enquiries and mini statements on AePS while the number for financial transactions which involved withdrawals stood at 35.4 million and was worth ₹10,100 crore, according to data from NPCI.

Apart from the Common Service Centres, a network of 10 lakh registered business correspondents, or bank mitras, use AePS to provide remittance and cash withdrawal services in underbanked regions. More than 300 million people have received ₹28,256 crore as financial assistance under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana from the ₹1.70 lakh crore relief package, the finance ministry said on April 11.

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