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Indian Parliament’s Canteen Gets a Card Machine Amid Cash Crunch

The Indian Parliament’s canteen–where Prime Minister Narendra Modi was photographed digging into a vegetarian lunch last year–now boasts a card machine to help lawmakers pay for their meals in the midst of a cash crunch.

The move comes after parliamentarians said they faced problems settling their bills in the canteen following the government’s action last month to replace large currency bills to curb corruption.

The canteen serves subsidized meals to its lawmakers and staff. A cup of tea is just a few U.S. cents and a three-course lunch is $1.50.

“Its much convenient now. Several members have started using the machine to make payments,”said Madhu Sheel Kalra, the canteen’s supervisor.

For its first 65 years of business, the canteen took only cash, said Ms. Kalra, who has worked there for more than 20 years.

Many parliamentarians order a vegetarian lunch, comprising of rice, chappatis, two vegetables, salad and curd–all for about 50 cents, said Ms. Kalra.

“The demand for vegetarian thali has gone up ever since Prime Minister Modi had it in March last year,” she said.

Parliament is also embracing Mr. Modi’s message that India should move toward digital payments.

Nearly a dozen card machines will be installed at canteens and public utility booths such as a railway ticket reservation counter within the Parliament complex this week, Ms. Kalra said.

Several lawmakers who frequent the canteen on the first floor of Parliament House, had complained to the house that they were finding it difficult to pay for their meals due to shortage of smaller denomination bank notes.

Banks and ATMs have been mostly dispensing high value notes of 2,000-rupees, which are useless for small payments when everyone’s short of cash.

Not everyone was happy about the move.

“Even a card-swiping machine will not help people like me as I haven’t used a credit or debit card ever in my life. And why pay a transaction cost on it?” said Sukhendu Shekhar Roy, a lawmaker from the Trinamool Congress Party.

The government should move to increase the availability of smaller denomination currency notes, he said.

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(via WSJ)