India’s finance ministry has extended an exemption for pre-paid mobile customers to use defunct INR500 (USD7.3) notes to pay for mobile top-ups of up to INR500 until 15 December, the Economic Times reports. The government’s decision on 8 November to render INR500 and INR1,000 notes invalid with immediate effect – part of the government’s effort to fight corruption – hit the mobile market hard, with estimates suggesting that mobile top-ups have dropped by 30%-70% since the demonetisation process began due to the limited availability of cash. With the pre-paid segment making up more than 90% of India’s wireless customer base, industry groups the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) and the Association of Unified Telecom Service Providers of India (AUSPI) last week requested that the government permit retailers and distributors to continue accepting the defunct notes, an exemption that had been allowed for utilities and petrol stations until 24 November. On that day, however, the government postponed the deadline to 15 December and extended the exemptions to include pre-paid mobile services.
Rajan Matthews, the director general of the COAI welcomed the move: ‘We are delighted that the government acceded to our request prioritising consumer interest so that citizens can continue to top-up and use mobile phones, which are an essential service’. The official also threw the group’s weight behind the PM’s initiative, part of which aims to drive India towards a ‘less-cash’ economy, adding: ‘The telecom industry supports endeavours to drive banking transactions towards mobile phones, reducing the cost per transaction for all stakeholders and benefiting banking eco-systems.’