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Bhutan has become the first country to adopt India’s Unified Payment Interface (UPI) standards for its quick response (QR) code. It is also the second country after Singapore to have BHIM-UPI acceptance at merchant locations, NPCI International Payments Ltd (NIPL), said on Tuesday.

NPCI is an umbrella organisation for operating retail payments and settlement systems in India, it is an initiative of Reserve Bank of India and Indian Banks’ Association for creating a robust payment and settlement infrastructure in India.

Speaking at the virtual launch of BHIM-UPI in Bhutan, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said it will help Indian tourists visiting “the land of happiness”. “BHIM-UPI is one of the achievements of India in terms of fintech,” she said on the occasion. Over 200,000 tourists from India travel to Bhutan every year.

Bharat Interface for Money (BHIM) is India’s digital payment application (app) that works through UPI, a system that powers multiple bank accounts into a single mobile application.

During the lockdown because of the Covid-19 pandemic, BHIM-UPI became an “effective mechanism” of payment, and in 2020-21, it processed 22 billion financial transactions worth 41 lakh crore, she said. India witnessed a 68-day hard nationwide lockdown since March 25, 2020 to contain the spread of the first wave of pandemic.

“It is a proud product of India that we are sharing with Bhutan today,” Sitharaman said. Unified Payments Interface (UPI) is an instant real-time payment system, allowing users to transfer money on a real-time basis, across multiple bank accounts without revealing details of one’s bank account to the other party.

The payment system was launched by NIPL, the international arm of National Payment Corporation of India (NPCI), in partnership with the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) of Bhutan. The finance minister of Bhutan, Lyonpo Namgay Tshering, was present in the virtual ceremony.

The collaboration between NIPL and RMA will enable acceptance of UPI-powered BHIM app in Bhutan. “RMA will ensure that the participating NPCI mobile application through UPI QR transactions is accepted at all RMA acquired merchants in Bhutan,” NIPL said in a statement.

With this launch, Bhutan becomes the first country to adopt UPI standards for its QR deployment, it said. “Bhutan will also become the only country to both issue and accept RuPay cards as well as accept BHIM-UPI,” it added.

“The simple, safe, cost-effective mobile-based payments system has become one of the most prominent forms of digital payments. In 2020, UPI enabled commerce worth $457 billion, which is equivalent to approximately 15% of India’s GDP [gross domestic product],” it said.

“Our vision has always been focused on taking our robust and popular payments solutions to global markets”, said Ritesh Shukla, CEO, NIPL.

This strategic partnership with Bhutan in the area of digital payments will not only enhance the ease of transacting for Indian travellers to Bhutan but will also add value to lives of customers in Bhutan, he added.