On 14 April, just 105 days after he surprised India’s banking and fintech sectors by announcing BHIM, a government-backed payments app, Prime Minister Narendra Modi dug in his heels.

At a government-funded lucky draw function in Nagpur to reward customers and businesses for using digital payment methods, Modi launched another payments platform—BHIM Aadhaar. The day was also the birth anniversary of Bhimrao Ambedkar, the father of India’s constitution and on whose name BHIM is based.

There was now a BHIM line of products. The original BHIM meant for smartphone and feature phone users. And now BHIM Aadhaar, for those too poor to even own a phone.

The official release said: “Any citizen without access to smartphones, internet, debit or credit cards will be able to transact digitally through the BHIM Aadhaar platform. Already, 27 major banks (like State Bank of India, Bank of Baroda, Punjab National Bank) are now on board with 7.15 lakh merchants so that they can start accepting payments using BHIM Aadhaar.”

A consumer only needed to enter her Aadhaar number in an app on the merchant’s smartphone. And then leave her fingerprints in a biometric reader attached to the phone.

A YouTube tutorial was uploaded by an organisation that has now come to be associated with anything related to digital payments—the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI). It showed how both merchants and customers could use the BHIM Aadhaar app.

After a few initial congratulatory messages, merchants started asking where they could download the app from.

“Please upload the app on Play Store first”

“sir i alrady register bhim app ‘i am merchant’ but no link app download”

“I m a merchant ..but how can I get this app ..I m very confused..because this app is not available on Playstore.. please help NPCI”

“bhim aadhaar app is not available in play store”

Twenty-seven days later, and there’s still no sign of the official app.

There have been no replies from the NPCI. Because it has bigger issues.

Will the real NPCI please stand up?

The NPCI as we know it today won’t be the same by the end of the year. The BHIM family of products that have been thrust upon it, and it has (reluctantly) come to own, will move out of its control, say two sources who work closely with the NPCI but declined to be identified by the name, given the politicisation of the space.

“Eventually before the end of the year, BHIM and UPI won’t rest in the same organisation,” said one of them. “The NPCI understands it is not the same animal anymore, and there is conversation now on which organisation the BHIM and UPI should sit in. It will take two-three months, and this will get resolved,” he says.


Arundhati Ramanathan

Arundhati is Bengaluru-based. She is interested in how people use money in the digital age and how new economies will take shape based on that interaction. She has spent over 10 years reporting and writing on various subjects. Previous stints were at Mint, Outlook Business and Reuters.

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