“How is it different from Paytm?” asked Arun Sharma, a graduate in hospitality management who owns a sweet shop in South Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar area.

That was the first of a series of questions Sharma came up with when asked about Bharat Interface for Money or Bhim – a mobile application developed by the National Payments Corporation of India and publicised by the government.

Sharma, who had familiarised himself with mobile wallet Paytm in November after the Modi government demonetised Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, triggering a severe cash crunch, had not downloaded Bhim as of Tuesday evening. He said he had heard about the launch of the app but had no information on how to use it.

The app, which was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi on December 30, is linked to NPCI’s United Payments Interface, a payment system that allows smartphone users to transfer money and transact from their bank accounts without having to key in their debit or credit card numbers.

Within 48 hours of its launch, the Bhim app was topping the list of free applications on Play Store – Google’s pre-installed app on Android phones (the only operating system it is currently available on) that allows users to browse and download music, movies, books, magazines, games and various other apps.

And on Sunday, Amitabh Kant, chief executive officer of the NITI Aayog, the government’s policy think tank, tweeted that Bhim had crossed three million downloads and had been used to make over five lakh transactions since its launch.

BHIM continued to be at the top of the Free Apps chart on Google Play Store till Tuesday evening.

The app generated a buzz on social media too, with many either praising the initiative or posting queries and complaints about it. But the situation at the real work did not bear out this enthusiasm.

Scroll.in visited prominent markets in Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai this week, but none of the shop owners we spoke to, all of whom were literate and familiar with digital transactions, had even downloaded the Bhim app, let alone used it. A few of them said they had heard about the payment system but were yet to download and use it, citing lack of information and guidance. Some said they were willing to try it if someone familiarised them with the app.

‘Someone should explain it to us’

The manager of a prominent book shop in the posh Khan Market area of Delhi said she had not heard about Bhim, nor had any customer approached her with the app as of Monday evening.

In East of Kailash in South Delhi, Dharmendra Kumar, who owns a cigarette chop and had been accepting payments through Paytm till last week (he stopped after he felt the cash crunch had eased) said he had missed Modi’s December 30 announcement. Looking for the app on Play Store, he asked Scroll.in how to use it and what makes it distinct from and more helpful than other payment platforms.

In the wholesale market area outside Vile Parle in Mumbai, many traders said they had heard about the application but had not yet begun to use it.

“I will use Bhim when someone from the company comes to explain it to us,” said Naresh Parekh, proprietor of an electric store. “Since it is Modiji’s work, it will of course be useful to us.” Paytm representatives had visited the area just a week after the currency ban was announced on November 8 and most shops here had stickers of the e-wallet company on their doors. Parekh, who had just accepted a transaction worth Rs 329 via Paytm, pushing his account balance to Rs 1,081, said he continues to conduct most of his business by cash and cheque as most of his suppliers prefer those payment modes.

Ghanshyam Bhagat, a vegetable vendor who adopted Paytm in the second week of demonetisation, also said he was planning to stop using the mobile wallet in a few days and does not plan to download Bhim. “There is no need for all these mobile apps now because cash is once again circulating in the market.”

Bindesh Sejpal, owner of a wholesale women’s clothing shop in Vile Parle, said he wanted to know about how secure the app was. Sejpal, who had heard of Bhim and considers himself up-to-date with technology for online transactions, said. “The Bhim app is not the problem. The issue is that first you need to understand how banking works, look at what security features are available, before you can use it.”

Ghanshyam Bhagat said he planned to remove the Paytm sign dangling from his shop in a few days and does not plan to download the Bhim app. Image Credit: Mridula Chari

In South Chennai’s Adyar area, Dinesh Kumar, who owns an electronics store, had heard about Bhim but was not sure how it works. He assumed that the app was like Paytm and would involve the same time and effort as a transaction on a mobile wallet.

The manager of a prominent shop in Adyar seemed perplexed at the mention of the application. “What is the advantage of it?” he asked.

A Hameed, a shopkeeper at Adyar Tailoring Emporium, said business was too slow at the moment because of demonetisation to make such a transition. “We need more cash in the economy first for things to pick up, only then can we bring in all these other kinds of payments,” said Hameed.

What’s special about Bhim?

To set itself apart from other e-wallets, the Bhim app is expected to include several features in coming days. For instance, the app will be linked to the Aadhaar database, the government’s biometric-based unique identification project, after which transactions can be made using fingerprint recognition (to bridge the digital and literacy divide in the country). However, it is not clear when these features will be implemented.

“BHIM is different from e-wallets, other UPI-supported applications and UPI-Wallets [like PhonePe and Pockets] which have characteristics of both,” said Srikanth Lakshmanan, a software engineer who is part of Cashless Consumer, an initiatitive encouraging people to switch to digital payments. “Unlike e-wallets, in UPI apps, including Bhim, the app is directly linked with the bank accounts [of the user]. The good thing is it [BHIM] automatically creates a virtual payment address on the basis of the phone number linked with the concerned bank account, making it more user-friendly.”

A virtual payment address or VPA is akin to a financial address and does away with the need for card details, netbanking information or the bank’s IFSC code.

Lakshamanan, however, said that while the transaction limit for other UPI-supported apps, which can accommodate multiple bank accounts, is Rs 1,00,000 per day, Bhim has a cap of Rs 20,000 per day, of which a single transaction cannot exceed Rs 10,000.

Bhim is currently only available on Android platforms but the government has assured that versions compatible with other operating systems, such as Apple’s iOS, will be out soon.