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Akodara, India's first digital village that is totally immune to the side-effects of demonetization
Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced his scheme of demonetization of higher denomination currency notes, there is a mad rush among people to get their old notes exchanged with new ones. Long queues can been seen outside bank branches and ATMs across the country. But there is a small dusty village near Ahmedabad that is totally immune to such side-effects of demonetization.

Akodara, a village barely and hour's drive from Gujarat's capital Ahmedabad has earned the tag of India's first digital village that uses a cashless system for payments of goods and services. It's a unique village where you don't need cash to buy vegetables, groceries or even a pack of biscuits. You don't even need your wallet or make long lines for exchanging old currency notes. In simple words, Akodara is nothing short of heaven in today's troubled times.

Akodara is a tiny village around 90 km away from Ahmedabad, located in Sabarkantha district of Gujarat. The village was adopted by ICICI Bank in 2015 and made cashless by adopting digital technology.

With a total population of 1,191 people, what's most heartening to note is that each of the 250 households in the village has a savings account in the local branch of ICICI Bank. The bank provided training to the villagers to embrace digital technology, thus decreasing their dependence on cash. What's more, the village even has its own website:

In an interview to Hindustan Times, JS Patel, a farmer said, "Like the rest of Indians, we are not worried about depositing or exchanging cash. All the adults have bank accounts linked to their Aadhar numbers. As all the transactions at markets, milk cooperatives, shops and even vegetable vendors hare are cashless, we withdraw cash only when we have to go outside the village."

This village is prime example of how e-banking can be practically implemented in Indian villages without much difficulty. A village vegetable seller here even accepts payments as little as Rs 10 through e-banking. Since last year, the local dairy cooperative has stopped paying farmers in cash. They are now paid through bank transfers into their accounts.

Manilala Prajati, the village's cable operator collects his monthly dues from customers via internet banking. All users have to do is to send an SMS to the bank by typing three followed by their mobile number, amount to be transferred and the last six digits of their account number.

The bank has also provided internet facility to the village panchayat which has access to latest prices of agricultural raw material through NCDEX. The village has almost 100 per cent literacy rate and all mobile banking is done in Hindi, English and Gujarati languages.

The village has primary, secondary and higher secondary schools equipped with smart boards, computers and tablets. There is even a solution for marking attendance of students digitally. Pinkesh Rawal, a teacher says, "Now the children swipe their cards for attendance; they find this activity very exciting."

Other technological advancements for improving the Quality of Life (QoL) of the villagers include a reverse osmosis-based water treatment plant and three micro ATMs.

How and when was the idea of this digital village envisaged?

After Narendra Modi took charge as the Prime Minister of the country, within almost a year he launched the Digital India campaign. This campaign aimed at connecting rural India through high speed internet network and improving digital literacy in the country. ICICI Bank also pitched in with its own goal of improving financial literacy in rural areas and partnered with the government.

ICICI Bank set up its branch two years ago and within four months of opening of the branch, the bank started working on the digital village project. Akodara was shortlisted and chosen over other villages in contention due to a high literacy rate of almost 100 per cent. Although the bank had started with just 100 accounts opening, it now boasts of almost 1,200 accounts of almost every adult resident of the village.

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