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State-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) has decided to waive charges on short code messages used for availing banking services on feature phones till January 31, 2017. "To give impetus to the demonetisation drive by Government of India and to facilitate masses to do cashless financial transactions even with feature phone, BSNL has decided to waive the tariff of National Unified USSD platform till 31st January, 2017," the telecom PSU said in a statement. BSNL had signed an agreement with National Payment Corporation of India (NPCI) for provision of USSD-based Mobile Banking service, it said. Essentially, the short code messages are used by consumers to avail banking services like checking balance, withdrawals, deposits and peer-to-peer-transfer. The free usage of this facility and feature will boost government objective to move toward a less-cash society, R K Mittal - Director(Consumer Mobility) of BSNL said, adding this will enable use of electronic banking facility and reduce difficulty for the common man. Last week, minutes after TRAI cut charges for the mobile short code messages for banking services by one-third to 50 paise, telecom operators agreed to make these messages -- commonly known as USSD -- free till December 31, 2016, in an attempt to promote mobile banking and cashless transactions following the scrapping of old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. The development comes at a time when the government is aggressively pushing consumers to digital payments and cashless transactions to tide over the ongoing liquid cash crunch. The move is expected to nudge low-end feature phone users -- who constitute nearly 65 per cent of the Indian mobile market -- towards mobile-based banking and payment services. While smartphones users typically avail banking services through apps, USSD is prevalent among consumers with feature phones who do not have internet connectivity for basic banking services. However, adoption of USSD for mobile-based banking transactions has not taken off as expected, given the steep rates so far. TRAI, which had issued a consultation paper on USSD in August this year, has also increased the number of dialogues that can be initiated in each session to 8 from 5, to pack in more enquiries into one short code message session.
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